Favorite LPs of 2016
[ on Merge Records ]
The former Archers of Loaf
frontman steps away from his Crooked Fingers
moniker and offers up his strongest set of songs in years. I’ve had the pure pleasure of seeing him tour this record both solo (in my own damn livingroom) and with a full band, and each was equally magical. Cannot wait to hear what he does next.
[ Stream another track on Soundcloud / Buy direct from Merge ]
[ on Barsuk Records ]
This LP started as a series of 7-inches in 2015, after which Bazan fleshed out his favorite tracks into this cohesive whole. Another captivating step in the sonic journey he’s been on since leaving the Pedro the Lion
[ Stream three songs on Soundcloud / Buy direct from Barsuk ]
Bent Shapes – “Wolves of Want”
[ on Slumberland ]
Happiness is when one of your longtime favorite Boston-area bands hooks up with one of your all-time favorite record labels, and the recorded result is just as great as the team-up promised. Damn do I ever love this band.
[ Stream the whole LP on Bandcamp / Buy direct from Slumberland ]
Rob Crow’s Gloomy Place
“You’re Doomed Be Nice”
[ on Temporary Residence ]
After the worrying news that Pinback
‘s Rob Crow was quitting music in 2015, seeing him return just a year later with such a strong record was a very welcome surprise.
[ Stream the LP on Bandcamp / Buy direct from Temp. Residence ]
DIIV – “Is The Is Are”
[ from Captured Tracks ]
Zachary Cole and his cohorts followed up their 2012 debut with an extended record that doesn’t so much evolve their sound as refine it. That’s not a complaint – even if many DIIV songs sound the same, their original blueprint is a cut above: Sons of shoegaze with a knack for ear-grabbing guitar melodies and an energy that similarly-styled bands strive for. I could do without some of the peripheral hype and the occasional obnoxious, indie-star gossip-followers at their live shows (“Where’s Skkyyyyyyy?!” – ugh), but the record itself: Gold.
[ Stream two tracks on Soundcloud / Buy direct from Captured Tracks ]
Tanya Donelly – “Swan Song Series” 3xLP/CD
[ on Laundromat Records ]
Stand-out record label American Laundromat
did us all a favor by gathering, expanding, and beautifully packaging former Throwing Muses
, and (current!) Belly
member Tanya Donelly’s self-released series of collaborative EPs into a triple LP collection. And what a list of collaborators: Belly bandmates Tom Gorman and Gail Greenwood, Muses bandmate David Narcizo, author Rick Moody, Robyn Hitchcock, John Wesley Harding, Fuzzy members Chris Toppin and Hilken Mancini, Bill Janovitz from Buffalo Tom, Claudia Gonson and Sam Davol of the Magnetic Fields, and many more. An all-star list if ever there was one.
[ Stream two tracks on Soundcloud / Buy direct from ALR ]
Dowsing – “Okay”
[ on Asian Man Records ]
I’m relatively late to the Dowsing party – the Chicago trio has been putting out records since 2011, but it wasn’t until 2015 that I caught the track “Get Dead!
” (from their first full-length) on SomaFM’s indispensable “Indie Pop Rocks” channel
and fell hard. After inhaling their back catalog, I was psyched to see this excellent new record arrive last year. I’ll be around for whatever else comes.
[ Stream the “Okay” LP on Bandcamp / Buy direct from Asian Man ]
E – “E”
[ on Thrill Jockey ]
Thalia Zedek has been making powerful music for a remarkable three decades, early on with the bands Live Skull and Uzi, then with 90s quartet Come, until settling into a steady run with the Thalia Zedek Band. It would have been easy for her to keep making great records with her eponymous combo (see below for another one), but instead she’s found herself in two additional productive projects, both very different from her own, and both f’in great. New trio E is one of ’em, and their pedigree is impressive: Thalia with Gavin McCarthy (ex-Karate) on the drum kit and Neptune’s Jason Sanford on his homemade, stringed contraption. I saw them live before I heard their stuff and was pretty well blown away. Their debut LP delivers.
[ Watch the “Great Light” video on YouTube / Buy from Thrill Jockey ]
Field Music – “Commontime”
[ on Memphis Industries ]
Another ace full-length from the brothers Brewis. Somehow they find the soul inside razor-sharp, precision playing. Seeing these guys perform is like watching a master-class in musicianship (and proper English manners), but there’s humanity in that technicality. Amazes me that they’re still playing places as small as Great Scott.
[ Stream a song on Soundcloud / Buy direct from Memphis Industries ]
Ghost Box Orchestra – “High Plaine”
[ via Bandcamp & Evil Hoodoo ]
Doing our city proud, another solid release from this Boston-based psych-noise quintet. Powerful live shows with songs you can get lost in – epics that can both entrance and pummel you all at once. Keep it comin’, GBO.
[ Stream and buy the “High Plaine” LP at Bandcamp ]
Hallelujah the Hills
“A Band Is Something To Figure Out”
[ on Discrete Pageantry ]
Two years ago I called HtH’s previous record “their best album to date”, and that was two years after thinking that 2012’s “No One Knows What Happens Next” was their best album to date. So, yeah, take a guess what I though of their latest? Not sure how they keep upping their game, but I can probably just call whatever they release in 2018 their best ever. I’d say this is getting old, but no. No it’s not.
[ Stream and buy the album on Bandcamp ]
The James Rocket – “Thrust”
[ via Bandcamp ]
Speaking of dependable, another stellar set of sharp GBV-styled rock-pop from the long-distance duo known as The James Rocket. Still frustrated that I’ve never had a chance to see their NYC-based full-band configuration on stage, but I’m holding out hope the timing works out this year.
[ Stream and buy “Thrust” on Bandcamp ]
Kristin Hersh – “Wyatt at the Coyote Palace” CD/Book
[ on Omnibus Press ]
My long-standing love for all things Kristin Hersh is further deepened by her most ambitious and satisfying release in ages. That she’s able to up her game decades into her career is remarkable, and not just musically, but within the written words that have been accompanying her output. She makes her own rules, forges her own path, and I’ll be following whatever direction it takes.
[ Buy WatCP at her website / Stream songs on Soundcloud / Become a Strange Angel supporter ]
Kestrels – “Kestrels”
[ on Sonic Unyon ]
Kestrels third full-length is a self-titled one, and the eponymous naming is appropriate – this record acts as a mission statement. They’ve perfected their rhythmic, powerful take on shoegaze, legitimate sons of Swervedriver and MBV but propulsive and exciting enough to rarely sound like a rehash.
[ Stream on Bandcamp / Buy from Sonic Unyon ]
Matt Pond PA – “Winter Lives”
[ on 131 Records ]
This proper MPPA full-length has been a long time coming, and its release feels like a victory after some temporary renaming in the wake of drawn-out label drama. But it seems Matt, Chris, and their rotating crew of on-stage collaborators are finally free. Their recent Boston show featured perhaps the best backing band they’ve ever pulled together, and along with this record, it properly recharged my fandom. Get yourself on board by pitching in through Patreon
[ Stream the LP on Bandcamp / Buy direct from the band ]
Nada Surf – “You Know Who You Are”
[ on Barsuk Records ]
Nada Surf just keeps on keepin’ on, dependable in their regular deliveries of melodic, ear-grabbing collections of rock-pop. No dramatic shifts in direction, but when you’ve got the formula down so well, why mess with it? They know who they are. And they’re still capable of delivering aural gems like “Rushing
“. The 2012 addition of guitar-genius Doug Gillard to live shows (and the last couple LPs) certainly upped the ante, so here’s hoping he sticks around despite being pulled back into Robert Pollard’s orbit
[ Stream a song on Soundcloud / Buy the LP from the band ]
The Needy Sons“Vis-A-Vis”
[ via Bandcamp ]
Mike Gent of the Figgs
and Bill Janovitz of Buffalo Tom
teamed up with the ace rhythm section of Ed Valauskas (The Gravel Pit
/Jenny Dee & The Deelinquents
) & Eric Anderson (Jenny Dee & The Deelinquents
/Schnockered) for a Boston-based soopah-groop that’s been kicking around for a few years putting on killer rock-n-roll shows at area bars. A few studio recordings snuck out in 2015 through Bandcamp (see below) before they decided to put out a proper debut in the form of “Vis-A-Vis”. And proper it is. The opening track was an instant fave the first time I caught it live, so getting to hear it on demand is a regular joy.
[ Stream and buy the LP through Bandcamp ]
New Dog – “Teeth Marks”
[ on Heart Of A Dog ]
Anar Badalov (ex-Metal Hearts
), aka New Dog, follows up 2015’s excellent “Classic Ballroom Dances” with an even better full-length in the form of “Teeth Marks”. Both beautiful and haunting, soothing and unsettling, there’s quiet power in both the production and performance. Keep an eye on his Bandcamp page
for randomly-released singles and covers (such as last August’s “Running At Night“
[ Stream and buy “Teeth Marks” at Bandcamp ]
Nocturnal Habits – “New Skin For Old Children”
[ on Glacial Pace ]
What a gift. As an unabashed Unwound
fanboy who believes their final LP (2001’s “Leaves Turn Inside You”) was an unqualified masterpiece, I’ll listen to anything and everything the former bandmates put out. The 2011 formation of Survival Knife
supplied a satisfying fix of Justin Trosper’s songwriting, and I assumed we’d get an eventual follow-up to that band’s great 2014 debut LP, “Loose Power”. Then, outta nowhere, Nocturnal Habits is born. Not only is Justin at the helm, but his collaborators include incredible Unwound drummer Sara Lund and Melvins’ Dale Crover. As much as I love Survival Knife, “New Skin For Old Children” feels like the spiritual and sonic successor to “Leaves…”, and like I said… a gift.
[ Stream the LP on Bandcamp / Buy direct from Glacial Pace ]
Peyton Pinkerton – “Rapid Cycler”
[ on Darla Records ]
Former New Radiant Storm King
co-captain Peyton Pinkerton follows up his 2013 solo debut with a second stellar set of his distinctive songs, showing off some wide-ranging influences, masterful guitar skills, and deft home production skills. Without regular live gigs or a promotional machine behind him, Peyton’s output runs the risk of being criminally under-heard, so do your part to help fight crime and dig in.
Read a new interview about the LP at MassLive, and check out my 2013 chat with him here.
[ Hear song samples & buy direct from Darla Records ]
Pinkshinyultrablast – “Grandfeathered”
[ on Club AC30 ]
My favorite Russian shoegaze band. Well, also the only Russian shoegaze band I know, but I can’t imagine there being a better one. Propulsive noise-pop-chaos behind ethereal, entrancing female vocals. Love this band, and hoping they make it to the States before we shut down immigration entirely. Sigh.
[ Stream some songs on Soundcloud / Buy direct from Club AC360 ]
Radio Dept. – “Running Out Of Love”
[ on Labrador Records ]
For me, the long wait between Radio Dept. albums has never resulted in a let down. So far we’ve seen gaps of 3 years, then 4 years, and for this one 6 years. They’ve got such a knack for mood and melody that even shifting the balance from guitars to electronics on some songs retains their singular, identifiable sound. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that their decaying release trend doesn’t continue, and we see another record before this decade is done.
[ Stream some songs at Soundcloud / Buy direct from Labrador ]
Savak – “Best of Luck In Future Endeavors”
[ on Comedy Minus One ]
I randomly heard the Savak track “Reaction” last Spring without any context whatsoever – didn’t know who was in the band, no clue where they were from, or what label they had hooked up with – and I dug it immediately. Once I got the facts, that instant love came as no surprise: Members of Obits, Ted Leo’s Pharmacists, Edsel, The Make-Up & Holy Fuck with an album on the way from ace label Comedy Minus One. To say I was positively predisposed is an understatement. The entire LP lives up to the pedigree. Stream it below for proof.
[ Stream the LP on Bandcamp / Buy direct from Comedy Minus One ]
Split Single – “Metal Frames”
[ on Inside Outside Records ]
I completely missed out on Jason Narducy’s time in the band Verbow, and ashamedly his 2014 debut LP as Split Single escaped my radar as well. To me he was mostly “Bob Mould’s awesome bass player” and then the guy who had the unenviable task of filling Laura Ballance’s shoes in the live version of Superchunk (and fill them he damn well did). It was last Spring’s Pledgemusic campaign
to finish up “Metal Frames” that woke me to his songwriting skills, and after inhaling his debut I jumped on board funding full-length #2. Every taste he gave of the record as it progressed blew me away – and the final result is as strong and cohesive a collection of songs as I heard all last year, start to finish. He’s no longer “that guy on bass”, but instead a guy who makes bands better in between releasing his own awesome albums. Just let me know when I can pitch in for #3.
[ Stream “Metal Frames” on Soundcloud / Buy the album direct ]
Suburban Living – “Almost Paradise”
[ on 6131 Records ]
That thing where you think you’ve discovered a brand new band only to realize they’ve been around for years. Well, when I say “they”, I mean Wesley Bunch, the driving force behind Philly’s Suburban Living. He released his first songs in 2011 while based in Virginia, and the internet says I missed him and his band when they played nearby at Allston’s Great Scott in 2013. I’ve made up for that by seeing them a couple times since the 2015 release of their self-titled debut (a fave from that year – see below). That record grabbed me from the get go, and last year’s follow-up solidified my fandom. Crackling, catchy songs that mix just the right amount of 80s-pop with 90s-indie influences. Ear worms that dig in and crawl around your head long after you’ve heard ’em.
[ Stream the LP on Bandcamp / Buy it direct from 6131 Records ]
Tancred – “Out of the Garden”
[ on Polyvinyl ]
As a longtime Now Now
fan, I first became aware of Jess Abbott when she joined the band as a guitarist back in 2009 – making an already-great band even better. Given what an impact her playing and backing vocals had, it shouldn’t have surprised me that her own material would be so strong. This third full-length builds on the strengths of her first two: Utterly infectious indie-rock with fantastic vocals and pop hooks galore. This one feels a bit more cohesive, more fleshed-out production wise, and lyrically she’s stepped it up a notch. Reminds me of the best 90s-era alt-pop-rock combos (Tuscadero, Letters to Cleo, Veruca Salt, etc), without being any kind retread.
[ Stream the LP on Bandcamp / Buy direct from Polyvinyl ]
Teenage Fanclub – “Here”
[ on Merge Records ]
One of those rare bands whose album releases (and live shows) are infrequent enough that they feel like true ‘events’. It seems insane that I’ve been listening to them for 25 years now, but here we are. “Here” didn’t grab me as quickly as some of their previous LPs, but it eventually set down roots that dug even deeper after seeing them live last October. The songs washed over me – I wanted that show to last forever. Come back soon, guys.
[ Watch the video for “I’m In Love“ / Buy direct from Merge ]
Terry Malts – “Lost At The Party”
[ on Slumberland Records ]
This record hit me like a brick to the brow. It takes a lot to get a ‘wow’ out of me these days (reminder: increasingly old & jaded), but this one did it. Full of energy, powerfully angular at times but criminally catchy when it wants to be. A recording that captures the sound of goddamn band in action. I never numerically order these lists, but if I was pressured to pick an LP that defined 2016 for me, most days this would be the one.
[ Stream the LP at Bandcamp / Buy direct from Slumberland ]
Washer – “Here Comes Washer”
[ on Exploding In Sound ]
Another worthy addition to the Exploding In Sound roster, Brooklyn duo Washer’s debut full-length delivers on the promise of their killer 2014 EP and a couple of ace split 7-inches. 14 songs in less than 30 minutes, ranging from deceptively simple to slightly more complex arrangements, they’re one of those rare duos that sound fuller than most trios, and not just on record.
[ Stream the LP on Bandcamp / Buy direct from Exploding In Sound ]
Wedding Present – “Going, Going…”
[ on Scopitones ]
Unlike most other Weddoes records, this one took awhile to get into. I blame the first four tracks: A quartet of varied instrumentals. That’s an unusual choice for a band that relies on David Gedge’s distinctive vocals and rocky-relationship lyricism, but once the ‘proper’ songs kick in, it’s a corker. Some of Gedge’s strongest songs in years, so try skipping those first four after your first listen, or just put the digital version on random play. That’ll do it.
[ Stream some tracks on Soundcloud / Buy direct from the band ]
Wussy – “Forever Sounds”
[ on Damnably ]
It’s no easy feat to follow up what many called your breakthrough record (2014’s “Attica!”), but Wussy proves they’ve hit a creative stride and aren’t letting up. “Forever Sounds” is just as vital an LP, equal parts urgency and beauty, and quintessentially American. Their years of experience (in the ‘business’ and on the road) yields serious dividends we’re all lucky to share in. Bostonians were spoiled last year with two amazing live shows in the span of four months. Can’t wait for the comeback.
[ Stream the LP on Bandcamp / Buy direct from Damnably ]
Wye Oak – “Tween”
[ on Merge Records ]
Wye Oak further justify my ever-lasting faith by collecting a batch of songs that couldn’t find a home on a proper release, only to end up with an album that sounds more ‘proper’ than most. Cuts that could have been cast-offs are far from it, and side-by-side they show off the range they’re able to cover, from organic to the electronic, and all keepers.
[ Watch “Watching The Waiting” video on YouTube / Buy from Merge ]
Thalia Zedek Band – “Eve”
[ on Thrill Jockey ]
Thalia Zedek finds herself on this list twice, and after the year she’s had, she damn well deserves it. Though TZ been spending more time in both E (see above) and Dyr Faser
lately, the long-running band that carries her name feels like the unfiltered representation of her art. She’s got some of the Boston-area’s best musicians behind her to bring it to life, and they’ve been together long enough to make it seem effortless. There was a moment, last year, after seeing them play for the umpteenth time, that I just stood there in awe, realizing it was the best I’ve ever seen them on stage. And that’s saying something.
[ Stream the “Eve” LP on Bandcamp / Buy direct from Thrill Jockey ]
Favorite Short-Players of 2016
Allo Darlin’ – “Hymn on the 45” (7-inch series)
[ via WIAIWYA ]
Big sigh. The very last we’ll ever hear from Allo Darlin’. Two songs that put the perfect bow on the gift that was their entire existence. I loved this band, I’ll keep loving this band on record, and I’ll never forget the shows. It was a true honor to open for them a couple times, something I’ll forever count as a highlight of my modest little musical career. Farewell, darlins.
[ Listen & buy digitally on Bandcamp ]
50 Foot Wave – “Bath White” EP
[ on Happy Happy Birthday To Me Records ]
The second musician who finds herself on this list in two different projects, Kristin Hersh keeps funneling her more aggressive side through the power-trio that is 50 Foot Wave. I feel like they get overshadowed by her solo work and Throwing Muses output, but they’re an important aspect of her songwriting personality, offering up an entirely different kind of aural intensity.
[ Stream and buy the “Bath White” EP on Bandcamp ]
Film School – “June” EP
[ self-released digitally via iTunes/Spotify/etc ]
This one came outta nowhere. I thought the San Francisco quintet had called it quits back in 2011, so news last year of a new EP was a very welcome surprise indeed. As satisfying as it was, hopes are high that it’s just a teaser for a full-length to follow.
[ Stream the entire “June” EP on Soundcloud ]
Lush – “Blind Spot” EP
[ self-released ]
While seminal shoegazers Ride and Slowdive reunited and stuck around with the promise of new music, Lush reformed and immediately gave us an EP of new material that featured on their now-finished comeback tour. And unlike their sister-bands, they’ve already headed back into the sunset, calling it quits once again in the wake of bassist Phil King’s exit from the band. The reunion was short, but very, very sweet, and this EP was a welcome part of it.
[ Watch the “Out of Control” video / Buy the EP from the band ]
Mint Mile – “The Bliss Point” EP
[ on Comedy Minus One (vinyl) & digitally via Bandcamp ]
In the wake of Bottomless Pit
‘s self-imposed hiatus in 2014, co-frontmen (and ex-Silkworm
guys) Andy Cohen and Tim Midyett have thankfully kept on with the music-making separately – Cohen with fellow BP member Brian Orchard in Light Coma
(new LP soon on CMO
), and Midyett under the moniker Mint Mile. Having combined my 2015 & 2016 faves into this single post, you’ll see both Mint Mile 12-inches listed: 2015’s debut EP (“In Season and Ripe”) below, and the sophomore set, last year’s “The Bliss Point” EP. So far, I’m digging this whole “one EP per year” plan, especially when they’re as solid as these first two, and when each includes contributions from TM’s pool of talented musician-friends. Wouldn’t turn down a full-length, though.
[ Stream the EP on Bandcamp / Buy both EPs from Comedy Minus One ]
Favorite Compilations/Tributes of 2016
“Constant and True – a Tribute to the Songs of Rose Melberg”
[ via February Records ]
My art-crush on Rose Melberg is unending, and her voice, whether solo or in a band, has been a steady presence in my life for 20-something years. So I’m smack dab in the middle of the target market for a tribute album, even if it didn’t have some of my favorite people playing on it. Which this one does. My pals in the Smittens
and the wonderful Emma Kupa (Mammoth Penguins
) are among a stellar lineup of artists paying homage to all things Rose. Interpretations of her solo songs, Softies songs, Go Sailor songs, Tiger Trap songs… just about every base is covered here with care, respect, and with one of her favorite subjects, love.
[ Stream and buy the tribute on Bandcamp ]
“Say Yes! A Tribute To Elliott Smith”
[ via American Laundromat ]
We’re over 13 years removed from the sudden loss of Elliott Smith and it still hurts like it happened yesterday. It was tough to listen to his songs for awhile afterwards, and I still can’t do so without deep sadness. This beautiful tribute does his memory and unmatched talent justice – respectful interpretations of some of his best work by an impressive lineup, some straightforward, some less so, all presented in an immaculately-designed package. I bristled a bit when I heard an Elliott tribute was on the way, but then I heard it was from American Laundromat, and knew it would be done just right.
[ Stream the LP on Soundcloud / Buy direct from ALR ]
[ via Slumberland / Fortuna POP! ]
Two top-notch labels team-up for a 4-band, 8-song mini-LP that is remarkable in its quality and cohesiveness. This is no mere “label sampler” – the exclusive tracks could easily have lived on any of these artists’ own full-lengths. If you’re unfamiliar with any or all of those involved, take a listen and find yerself some new faves.
[ Stream three tracks on Soundcloud / Buy direct from Slumberland ]
Favorite “Works In Progress” of 2016
Gregory and the Hawk – “On the Orange Mountain”
[ via Patreon ]
Meredith Godreau is Gregory and the Hawk, and her latest work is being created and shared in a truly unique way: Outdoors in the Pacific Northwest, one song at a time, recorded live on video and released monthly. She’s up to eight songs so far, with two more to go, and each offering is more moving than the last. A truly special way of releasing an ‘album’, and following along has been pure pleasure. Join in at the link below.
[ Follow and support GatH’s journey on Patreon ]