Staff Picks: Top Releases of 2016

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Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds made our Staff Picks for Top Releases of 2016.
  • Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds made our Staff Picks for Top Releases of 2016.

In no particular order, here are music staff writers Josh Cannon, Andrew Earles, and J.D. Reager's favorite non-local releases of 2016.

Blood Orange — Freetown Sound
On Freetown Sound, Devonté Hynes (AKA Blood Orange) takes the harrowing blemishes woven into America’s identity — the rampant police brutality, the growing inequality in a country divided — and creates a searingly beautiful album. Blood Orange’s third LP is arresting, too, in dynamic. Hynes, a multi-instrumentalist, utilizes it all, weaving tracks together that call on funk and pop in a timeless way that’s all but gone in today’s music climate. — Josh Cannon

OCTAGRAPE - Aura Obelisk

Prior to founding Octagrape in 2012, Glen “Galaxy” Galloway had already spent two decades building one of the most enigmatic and exciting bodies of work (that also remains unburdened of a grossly-deserved reexamination/reassessment) with Trumans Water and then Soul-Junk. Considering the sound he got for the Spray Paint album listed below, it’s worth mentioning that Chris Woodhouse also recorded and mixed half of this record. Note: One of these 19 songs is an amazing cover of the Swell Maps’ “Vertical Slum” and the Octagrape feature-length documentary, Why Are We Doing This In Front of People? was just released and is available here. - Andrew Earles

Nada Surf- You Know Who You Are and Peaceful Ghosts
Anyone who really knows me, knows that my favorite band of the last decade or so has been Nada Surf.
My wife and I have travelled to relatively faraway places such as Vancouver, B.C., Seattle and Chicago
(among others) to see the band on tour, and earlier this year we even got matching Nada Surf tattoos –
so maybe take this with a grain of salt: 2016 has sucked in lots of ways, but it was a fine year for Nada
Surf fans.

Not only did the band deliver an excellent new studio album (You Know Who You Are) in
March, but they also released Peaceful Ghosts, a live set with the Babelsberg Film Orchestra that was
broadcast earlier in the year on German radio, in October. For the uninitiated, or those who only
remember Nada Surf for the 1996 alt-radio hit “Popular,” Peaceful Ghosts’ mix of new and classic
material would be a fine place to start discovering a truly under appreciated American rock band. -JD Reager

Nasa Space Universe- 70 AD


The opinion that hardcore stopped being important, exciting and forward-thinking at some point in the distant past is the “I don’t own a TV” of punk/HC-based conversation. This notion is usually posed by people who first need the reminder that when they speak, others can hear it, and secondly to block out however many hours might be needed to achieve an appreciation and understanding of what this band has been doing over the last eight years. 70 A.D. is NSU’s final release. - AE


The Posies- Solid States

Seattle power-pop legends and Memphis music Hall-of- Famers (as latter-day members of Big Star) Ken
Stringfellow and Jon Auer released their eighth studio album as the Posies this year, and, despite the tragedy of losing longtime drummer Darius Minwalla in 2015, it did not disappoint. Highlights include the
grandiose rocker “Squirrel vs. Snake,” and the album’s revved-up, dance-y opener, “We R Power!”
P.S., new drummer Frankie Siragusa is a powerhouse. -JDR

Kanye West — The Life of Pablo

What makes worship music so beautiful is that it takes an open mind. The Life of Pablo, Kanye West’s seventh studio album, is a turbulent derailing of the rapper’s psyche — a “gospel album with a lot of cussing,” as he dubbed it. It’s messy and full of grace. It features some of the best songs he’s ever written (30 Hours on repeat) and some of the best features on any album he’s released. Pablo’s been widely-panned, and though it’s not as definitive as other albums in his discography, it’s definitively Kanye. He’s always growing, lifting up a mirror to the fans and shit talkers looking up at him through their smart phones, demonstrating — on some level — we share the same self-aggrandizing traits we criticize him for. — JC

Various Artists-Brad Neely’s Harg Nallin’ Sclopio Peepio Music

This miiiight be a bit of a stretch for this list, because it isn’t exactly an official band album, but for my money the music on the new late-night Adult Swim comedy show Brad Neely’s Harg Nallin’ Sclopio Peepio is more fun to listen to than anything on the actual pop charts this year. There’s no way to describe it, really. My favorite moments are the ‘70s soul band of hamsters excited about getting fed sesame seeds, and the numerous iterations of Fruit Blood, an S&M/Carnivale-tribe pop group whose biggest fan seems to be Stripe from the movie Gremlins for some reason. Get ready for pure, absurd, pop-culture satirist joy. -JD

The Body- No One Deserves Happiness


Well, that may be the case, but everyone  deserves to hear what it might sound like if melodies and hooks were incorporated into The Body’s proprietary amalgam of noise-rock/doom-metal/harsh-noise/experimental-whats-it. -AE

Bon Iver — 22, A Million

Following a five-year absence, Justin Vernon’s return to Bon Iver with 22, A Million feels like a sensible progression and also a deconstruction of the band. Vernon’s third release under the moniker, 22 takes the sparse singularity of For Emma, the ethereal, orchestral arrangements of his second Self-Titled LP, and manipulates them into structureless songs layered with samples. His vocals, drowning in autotune, take on the life of an instrument all their own, and heighten a record that’s as numb as it is alive. — JC

Boris- Pink


Boris is misunderstood as simply a “Japanese doom metal band” when in reality at least half of their massive (and still rapidly growing) discography is a masterclass on making gold-standard examples of so many disparate styles of under and above-ground music. 2005’s Pink was the album that broke them through to American audiences….one listen to, say, “Farewell” and the 18-minute “Just Abandon Myself” (candidate for “most intense and powerful garage-punk song ever” up to that point) and it’s easy to see how. - AE

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds — Skeleton Tree

Sometime in 2015 while the Bad Seeds were writing their 16th studio album, Cave’s 15-year-old son Arthur died after falling from a cliff in Brighton, United Kingdom. What followed would become Skeleton Tree, a record that listens like a candle burning out. And, 16 records in, it’s the Bad Seeds best album yet. It’s a tormenting lesson in being transformed by unforeseen grief, the power it holds over you, and how to possibly move past it. Cave, his voice quivering, explores that here, in the supermarket aisles, the mundane day to days, and finds a way to keep going. It’s a slow-moving triumph, unlike anything they’ve released, and it leaves a mark. — JC

Conor Oberst — Ruminations

Ruminations
was recorded in just two days, the urgency in Conor Oberst’s voice apparent. Ten songs capture Oberst alone at a microphone, and he’s never sounded more alone, with a guitar, a piano, and sometimes a harmonica. An abundance of musicians taken the same avenue in recording, but Ruminations is raw in some way that most are not. These songs are sung like Oberst had to get something off his chest, unpolished, like thoughts desperate to exist openly in the world. — JC

The 1975 — I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It

The 1975 is a punching bag for indie elitists who might come at ‘em with an open mind given they caught their show in a small club or living room. But their second album, I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of It, is so unreasonably titled that I can understand the hate. Funny though, that before they garnered praise as The 1975, they were a bedroom band just like so many others before and after them. The difference: There was a stride in their sound lacking everywhere else. Even when written off as teenpop, The 1975 is good. Their sophomore LP is ambitious and ridiculous, with six-minute instrumental tracks resting between shiny pop, and it’s worth your attention. — JC

Frank Ocean - Blonde
Channel Orange’s concentrated pop structure introduced us to an ineffable power in Frank Ocean. His debut gave us a taste and then he disappeared. In his silence, Ocean deconstructed every expectation placed on pop stars climbing fame’s ladder. And now there’s the enigmatic Blond(e), a highly-anticipated follow up of which there’s too much to be said and, yet, not enough words to do the album justice. Blond(e)’s 60 minutes transcend genre: Ocean’s vulnerability made bare over ever-changing soundscapes — a definitive statement told through queer perspective that will be digested for years to come. — JC

Kevin Abstract — American Boyfriend: A Suburban Love Story

It’s doesn’t serve American Boyfriend to categorize it as a hip-hop record. There’s so much happening on Kevin Abstract’s sophomore LP, tracks free flowing with multi-layered instrumentation — it shouldn’t be confined in a box. Abstract’s second record is autobiographical and hyper-personal, a pursuit of self-discovery reminiscent on growing up in the suburbs of Texas. On American Boyfriend, Abstract analyzes his race and sexuality and how their intersection is lived and perceived. Musically, Abstract said artists like Vanessa Carlton and Sunny Day Real Estate influenced the album. Spanning 16 songs, where it doesn’t succeed, it at least remains one of the more interesting and ambitious releases this year. — JC



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