I’ll let my playlist for tonight speak for itself.
The title is pretty self-explanatory. This song, this video, this is completely insane.
Just check it out.
#1 Meat Wave — The Incessant
In line with the no-nonsense approach of this album, I’ll get straight into talking about it. It starts with the singer’s monotonic ‘to be swayed’ followed by a standard post-punk dum-dum-dish-dum-|-dum-dum-dish-dum beat. From that point on, the album pauses for zero breaths, dishing out dose after dose of bracing post-punk. This no-holds-barred intensity makes this album an exemplar of the genre.
Now for some context. The Incessant is a Steve Albini-engineered album by a band clamouring about a very adult angst — the sort that is builds up within until it gushes out, only to start building up again. I won’t dwell much on the lead singer’s recent breakup of a long-term relationship forming a reference point for the album, because his focus is more on the Incessant itself than its source. A lot of the universality of the album comes from this focus on what it feels like when ‘[the] payment’s due, the feeling’s moved, [and] anxious doom [is] coming for you.
While this is a feeling most of us have (some more often than others), an entire album about it has the potential to be a double-shot of depresso. The Incessant, though, is quite the opposite. It is as relentlessly cathartic as it is furious. It is the sound of someone fighting the darkness to some day see the light. While most of the album seems to talk about a terrible time, there is an inherent acknowledgment that terrible times end, and that this cessation is worthy of celebration. As the final track, Killing the Incessant, says, ‘here’s to killing The Incessant / I don’t need it / here’s to killing The Incessant / it’s defeated.’
#2 The Other People Place — Lifestyles of the Laptop Café
Maybe this is cheating, since this album originally came out in 2001, not 2017, but I had never heard it before, and it was re-issued in 2017, and most importantly, it’s a great album, so I’m going to excuse myself. Getting to the point, Lifestyles of the Laptop Café is 52-minutes of some of the most sublime minimal electronic music I’ve heard.
My bare-minimum research for this piece indicates this is no surprise, and I’m sort of the last bison at the lake. All sorts of techno and electronic acts have found the same sublimity in this record that I have, and much has already been made about its influence on techno, ambient, and all of electronic music. Plus there’s The fact that this was originally released, and has now been repressed, by Warp, the kings of minimal electronic music. Point is, even the last bison gets to drink the sweet sweet water of this lake, and if there are more of you bisons out there, I would fervently recommend you give this album a spin.
#3 Blanck Mass — World Eater
Sacred Bones Records has put out some fascinating records. There’s a couple of albums by Föllakzoid in there, Pharmakon, David Lynch, and just this year, Uniform’s Wake in Fright. Their latest release, Blanck Mass’s World Eater, is more than fascinating. Over the 48-minute runtime of the album, Benjamin John Power — who is also 1/2 of F*** Buttons — manages to put together a highly engaging electronic assault.
It’s an assault that is hard to describe. World Eater is equal parts dissonant and melodic, abrasive and transcendental, fast-paced and still. That the album switches so effortlessly between extremes in emotion and style of musical expression makes it so difficult to relay the experience of listening to it without resorting to hyperbole. The closest I can come to describing the experience, and the setting in which I believe it will be best enjoyed, is the feeling of running through city streets late at night, while pausing occasionally to survey the surroundings of skyscrapers, cars, trees, bars, clubs, and total strangers. This is not to say that the music is inaccessible in any way. Most of it is head-bopping brilliance that will reward most types of electronic music listeners.
#4 Thundercat — Drunk
Thundercat is a soul/funk bassist who has worked with a tonne of artists and bands apart from putting out a bunch of albums as a solo artist. To give you an idea of what ‘a tonne’ means, he, on the one hand, has worked with rap superhero Kendrick Lamar and Flying Lotus, and on the other, was, for a few years, the bassist of crossover legends Suicidal Tendencies. Basically, it’s fair to say this was a ‘hype’ release for many.
And it’s a pretty solid album too. One I would definitely recommend listening to. I love that the songs are short and crisp. The production is interesting: a lot of reverb, a lot of bass, a lot of groove. The vocals, mostly in falsetto, complement the instrumental tracks brilliantly. And there’s a Kendrick feat in there, so there’s also that, although I wasn’t a big fan of that particular track (gasp!). If you want a soulful night-loungey sort of album, this is a safe bet. But it isn’t the earth-shatterer I thought it could have been.
#5 Ed Dowie — The Uncle Sold
Like most experimental pop, Ed Dowie’s Uncle Sold seems like the sort of album that takes its time to grow on you. I’ve spent over a month with it, and it has kinda-sorta grown on me. Most of the tracks are slow, soft and often a mix of drones and piano, with Ed Dowie singing, sometimes chanting over them. This combination makes the album sound like a collection of sombre lullabies.
I liked this album, but it can tend to seem monotonous to some. While the experience of listening to the whole album from start to finish is good, I struggle to think of a single moment that really stuck out. Still, it’s an enjoyable listen, one that I will whole-heartedly recommend, especially as a pre-naptime listen. If you still do naps, that is.
Every single thing Leonard Cohen (RIP) touched.
#1 Throwing Snow — Embers
I am automatically sceptical of concept albums. To me, they often come across as ham-fisted and gimmicky. Embers, my favourite January album, is a kinda-sorta concept album that avoids this trap. Its central concept — the abundance of cycles in nature — is a constant but subtle presence, right from the cover of the album to its structure. This concept transforms what is already a bunch of solid electronic tracks into a solid album.
The album starts with the sound of a rural fire, placing us in front of a source of heat and light in the dark wilderness. Throughout the album, chirps and clicks reinforce this setting. It’s an odd setting for dance music, but on Embers, it works to create a uniquely organic backdrop.
What unravels against this backdrop is a uniquely organic brand of electronic music that oscillates between warm and cold, dark and light, upbeat and downbeat. A few songs into the album, a pattern forms. A motif is introduced, and subsequently broken down until it collapses into a dull hum. From this, another motif rises, crescendoes, and collapses into a dull hum of its own. And on and on it goes.
Right from the outset, it is clear that Embers is an album-lover’s album. The buildups are slow, the transitions are seamless, and the sound covers a lot of ground — from nocturnal house music, to drone-y ambient music, to wibble-wobble IDM. Most importantly, the music is consistently catchy, meaning the album always feels significantly shorter than its hour-long runtime. In keeping with its theme of cyclicality, the album ends like it starts: with the sound of a crackling rural fire. It’s the perfect way to end an album that’s intended to be looped, and is good enough to warrant it.
#2 Cloud Nothings — Life Without Sound
My first Cloud Nothings album was Attack on Memory, whose singles — Stay Useless, and No Future/No Past — I loved. The album? Not as much. The album itself was a massive hipster hit, with a whole bunch of online superstar reviewers praising the band’s shift from poppy punk to edgy post-hardcore. I, of course, never knew a poppy Cloud Nothings. To me, Attack on Memory, and its followup Here and Nowhere Else, sounded a lot more wallow-y than edgy.
Life Without Sound, the third Cloud Nothings record I have heard, is my favourite by them. Firstly, the depresso is dialled down quite a few notches, a decision that gets my thumbs-up. Secondly, I think the music is just flat-out more interesting. ‘Catchy’ is a word I find myself using a lot these days, and this album not only has a whole bunch of catchy songs, but also is just catchy overall.
I have never been a huge fan of the lyrics of Cloud Nothings’ songs, which often come off as drenched in self-pity. While that isn’t as much of a problem in this record, I continue to tune out most of the lyrics. That said, I would recommend this album to fans of pop-punk and post-hardcore. It’s a good, straightforward, and mostly enjoyable experience.
#3 Neil Cicierega — Mouth Moods
The only fair way to describe Mouth Moods, and the two previous Niel Cicierega albums — Mouth Silence and Mouth Sounds — is post-pop mashup comedy. For context, the reference to mouths in all three albums comes from Neil Cicierega’s obsession with Smash Mouth’s All Star, which features prominently in all three albums.
For fans of western pop culture of the nineties and early aughties, this album is a goldmine of oh-I-remember-that. In just the first song, there’s Smash Mouth, of course, there’s Cake, Smashing Pumpkins, Foo Fighters, MC Hammer, that this-iiis-the-story-of-a-girl song, that Everybody Dance Now song, and that Kung Fu Fighting song. In just in the first song.
This isn’t ground-breaking stuff. And there are several moments when you won’t be able to shake off the image of some dude at his laptop layering song after song on some free music-maker type software. But there are certainly more moments when you’ll find yourself bopping and laughing.
#4 William Basinski — A Shadow in Time
Someone online referred to William Basinski’s A Shadow in Time as an audio sculpture. That sounds about right. More than any other ambient music I’ve heard, William Basinski’s music has a stillness to it. It doesn’t seem to move forward in time so much as it seems to reveal itself upon careful inspection.
This is an album that won’t reveal itself over five listens, but one that will continue to throw surprises on the 100th listen. I sense this is one of those albums that will continue to grow on me.
Sometimes you discover an album you feel was made exclusively for you. Everything about it seems perfect. You lose all sense of nuance and rationality. It isn’t just a good album, it isn’t just a great album, it’s perfect. There has never been anything better than it. The album runs its course and you find yourself middle-distance-staring, wondering what the hell just happened. Few albums can do that, tint the whole world in their colour. If you’re lucky, this feeling comes once a year. If you’re luckier, this feeling persists. If you’re luckier still, this feeling grows with each listen. Nuances start to appear. It’s a sort of ‘true love’. The more you learn, the more you fall in love. You fall in love with each blemish, each wrinkle, each freckle. A few months ago, I fell in love with the 5 EPs by Disco Inferno. With each listen, I sink a little deeper.
Metal is rage for the repressed. I can’t scream at people. I don’t do wall-punching. But it’s all within me. That rage, sometimes [redacted length=”short”]ing puerile, sometimes righteous and what-not, is within me. You know they say don’t hold it in, let it out, etc. Yeah. This is how I let it out. Instead of acting like a tantrum tantric, punching people while talking about how I’m going to [redacted length=”short”] them up, I put my headphones on and punch the walls of my skull. And after a bit, I feel fine.
See, not being angry is not an option. There’s so much to be angry about. There’s people you know being [redacted length=”short”]s, there’s people you don’t know being [redacted length=”short”]s, there’s you being a [redacted length=”short”]. There is no shortage of reasons to walk around being [redacted length=”short”]ing [redacted length=”short”]ed. The only option you have is how you choose to deal with that anger. Some meditate, I get a bunch of dudes to scream at me.
Recently, I had all this rage boiling, dying to be expressed. I just went from artist to artist, hoping to find something to give a voice to all the [redacted length=”short”] in my head. Trap Them — heard them too often; the experience of listening to them is now more cerebral than it is visceral. Car Bomb — I have to pay too much attention to the music to be able to just go breakneck. Then I discovered this album called Orange Mathematics by this band called Frontierer that was perfect for letting it all out.
And it was [redacted length=”short”]ing glorious. It was the opposite of mindfulness. It was [redacted length=”short”]ing mindless meditation. It was like I could finally understand the meaning of that [redacted length=”extra”] pun — piece of mind. I got it. Twenty-six years old and I finally got the depth behind that joke. But here’s the thing about mindlessness — I wouldn’t be able to explain it. I wouldn’t be able to explain what I ‘got’. What made the album perfect, I guess, is that it was as breakneck as I wanted to be, and it’s rage was as impotent as mine is.
Metal isn’t going to overthrow governments. When was the last time you heard of a bunch of metalheads marching for peace or something? They have, sure, but it’s not what you think of when you think of metal. Punk, maybe. Folk, maybe. Hip-hop, maybe. Metal? Probably not. Metal is for when you’re too angry to march. Punk is for when you can channel your rage. Metal is for when you couldn’t if you tried. At some point, the album will end, and you’ve got to channel your rage, or for some, suppress it enough, to still be a functioning member of society. But for the duration of the album, [redacted length=”short”] that. [redacted length=”short”] it all.
And why must we be mindful al the time anyway? Consciousness and self-awareness are great and all, but don’t we all deserve some time off? Isn’t that why people go watch ‘leave your brain at home’ movies? Surely that has to be the reason people do it. I listen to metal for the same reason.
Don’t get me wrong. I also listen to metal mindfully. Two of the three examples I took earlier — Car Bomb and Trap Them — are exclusively cerebral exercises for me. But even those listens have a component of aaaaaAAaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAQ!@@@@@@@@@!!!!!!! They have to. All the metal I love has that component. Maybe it’s because I’m this repressed hodge-podge of hormones and emotions, but I’m always on the lookout for a component of that.
Back to Orange Mathematics. I recommend the album, by the way. But that’s because I’m currently still angry. If I weren’t, I’m not sure I would. But who knows? If I’m angry enough often enough, it will enter my playlist. I’ll listen to it when I’m not foaming at the mouth. And I’ll be able to tell. But until then, [redacted length=”short”] you and all that jazz.
Mondays are always difficult, but the first Monday of the year is the hardest. Here’s some music for the throbbing-headed and broken-hearted.
***** represents albums I recommend highly.
Lung cycles — On Being Lumpy (experimental folk)
Wilco — Yankee Hotel Foxtrot ***** (alt-country, pitchfork rock)
Shellac — 1000 Hurts (angry alternative, post-punk derivative)
Zoé — Memo Rex Commander y el Corazón Atómico de la Vía Láctea (mexican psychedelia)
Bully — Feels Like (straightforward post-punk inspired indie)
Layo & Bushwacka! — Nightworks (electronic)
Justice — Woman (dance, old daft punk)
Ornette Coleman — Shape of Jazz to Come ***** (free jazz)
Cloakroom — Big World (rock)
Trap Them — Crown Feral ***** (best metal)
High on Fire — Luminiferous ***** (best metal)
Magazine — Real Life ***** (post-punk)
The Clientele — Strange Geometry ***** (heartbreak rock)
Disco Inferno — The 5 EPs ***** (post-rock, the first album in ages to bring me to the edge of sanity, highest recommendation i can give)
|A Giant Dog — Pile||one of the best versions of slightly angry pop-punk fronted by a woman.|
|A Tribe Called Quest — We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service||if an album could exceed the unreasonable expectations I had on this one…|
|Alcest — Kodama||i’ve always been curious enough to check each of their releases — this is their best.|
|Anderson .Paak — Malibu||incredible soul/funk/rap/hiphop/r&b/every-genre-ever album.|
|Aphex Twin — Cheetah||this is great electronic music. it’s not just on the list because it’s aphex twin.|
|Blood Orange — Freetown Sound||one of two reverb-drenched, conscious pop music records on this list.|
|Bob Mould — Patch the Sky||a simple rock record by the husker du dude, it’s always over before you know it.|
|Bon Iver — 22, A Million||whatever anyone expected this record to sound like, it sounded different and better.|
|Cobalt — Slow Forever||i didn’t think i could still enjoy simple american metal as a fully grown adult, i can.|
|D.D.Dumbo — Utopia Defeated||pop album of the year probably, extra props for teetering on the edge of world music.|
|Danny Brown — Atrocity Exhibition||first album on this list on it primarily because of sampling, great stuff.|
|David Bowie — Blackstar||when i first heard blackstar (the song) i didn’t know he was going to die, still sad.|
|De La Soul — and the Anonymous Nobody…||everybody should get one nostalgia pick, this is mine.|
|Deathspell Omega — The Synarchy of Molten Bones||my favourite metal (maybe even overall) album of the year, still peeling layers off.|
|Deftones — Gore||probably my 2nd favourite deftones album after white pony, less metal, more rock.|
|DJ Shadow — The Mountain Will Fall||almost gets a spot only because of the number of times i looped nobody speak.|
|Driftmachine — Colliding Contours||if you prefer getting out of clubs to being inside, this is the album for you.|
|Equiknoxx — Bird Sound Power||my favourite electronic album of the year, this dubby dancehally album is just great.|
|Factory Floor — 25 25||Some of the most interesting electronic around. tickles my lcd soundsystem bone.|
|Frank Ocean — Endless and Blonde||this is yet another case of an artist exceeding almost hilarious amounts of hype.|
|Future of the Left — The Peace & Truce of Future of the Left||not my favourite album from one of my favourite bands, that said, still gnarly, angry.|
|Inter Arma — Paradise Gallows||great year for metal and relapse, this is sludgy, groovy, psychy on another level.|
|Israel Vines — Gatekeepers||dark electronic people for a dark electronic sort of year.|
|James Blake — The Colour in Anything||the 2nd half is admittedly stronger than the first, but still one of my for-sure top-tens.|
|Kanye West — The Life of Pablo||one of my favourite records of the year, again, primarily because of the sampling.|
|Kaytranada — 99.9%||the best soundtrack to a 3 am spent alone i have heard in a very long time.|
|Kemper Norton — Toll||meditative’ is the new ‘transcendental’, this is the sort of album where the word fits.|
|Kendrick Lamar — untitled unmastered.||if kendrick lamar puts an album out, it makes it to your year-end list, that’s just math.|
|Matmos — Ultimate Care II||an electronic album made using a washing machine as an instrument, eye-roll, wow.|
|Motorpsycho — Here Be Monsters||swedish prog-rock stalwarts who make the best drift-away prog-rock i have heard.|
|Nails — You Will Neve Be One Of Us||punch-the-walls metal that is guaranteed to make you snap your neck.|
|NAO — For All We Know||the second of two reverb-drenched, conscious pop music records on the list.|
|Neurosis — Fires Within Fires||i don’t know how neurosis keep coming up with relevant diy post-metal.|
|New Keepers of the Water Towers — Infernal Machine||everything you need to know about this album i have already written.|
|Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds — Skeleton Tree||a glacial record about grappling with grief, my favourite nick cave record.|
|Nicolas Jaar — Sirens||electronic album of the year, i have no idea how music this good is made.|
|Pantha du Prince — The Triad||this is what i think minimal/ambient electronic music is supposed to sound like.|
|Schammasch — Triangle||downside: longer than it needs to be, upside: some of the best bm this year.|
|ScHoolboy Q — Blank Face||immersive, got me rethinking my relationship with gangsta rap, we’re on a break.|
|Swet Shop Boys — Cashmere||this album grows and grows and grows on you. gets in because of sheer catchiness.|
|Tackle — Benzedrine||incredibly dark electronic music done right, word-less stories are told like this.|
|The Avalanches — Wildflower||a lot of chatter about how influential they are, not enough about how good they are.|
|The Body — No One Deserves Happiness||we all feel like shit once in a while, this is that moment in rock album form.|
|The Dillinger Escape Plan — Dissociation||limerent death has to be the best side one track one of the year. also, heaviest.|
|Tim Hecker — Love Streams||close your eyes and follow the patterns on the back of your eyelids to this album.|
|Trap Them — Crown Feral||best metal act in the world releases a pretty solid album, sold.|
|Ulcerate — Shrines of Paralysis||almost liked this album as much as the DSO album. one of the few i’ve looped.|
|Vektor — Terminal Redux||i’m told this is a concept album about spaceships, etc. it’s just good metal to me.|
|Xiu Xiu — Xiu Xiu plays the music of Twin Peaks||i have never watched twin peaks, so keep that in mind. one of my favourites, though.|
|Zao — Zenophobe/Fear Itself||i’m cheating, this is a single. but i liked it so much, it wouldn’t be fair to leave it out.|
It’s been while since we last spoke. I have soooo much to tell you. So much, in fact, that I’ll be doing all my sharing in the form of a list. Here’s what I’ve been listening to:
Motorpsycho – Here Be Monsters
Genre: Prog-rock (the hyphenated kind)
Motorpsycho’s The Death Defying Unicorn is one of the very few prog albums I would voluntarily listen to, and I more than just ‘voluntarily listen’ to it. It’s safe to say I adore the record. Here Be Monsters is not as good as that one is, but it’s still pretty amazing. I recommend it highly to fans of Wish You Were Here-era Pink Floyd, which is most people.
Deftones – Gore
Genre: Alternative metal
I don’t understand what everyone’s problem with this record is. I think it’s pretty neat. Prayers/Triangles is a great single. Hearts/Wires is great. Rubicon is a great closer. Honestly, I have no complaints about this record at all. Yes, if you want heavy shrieking Deftones, there’s not a lot of that in this album, but I think it’s one of their best albums.
Kalipo – Yaruto
Genre: Minimal electronica
I had never heard this album in full. Now I can’t stop. A common insultocompliment for music of this variety is that it’s great work music. I honestly think this album is a lot more than that. Also, do check out Kalipo’s videos on YouTube. They’re pretty amazing.
Vektor – Terminal Redux
Vektor has started to specialise in making space odyssey concept albums. This is a pretty solid album for fans of not-really-‘extreme’-extreme metal.
Blank Banshee – MEGA
I find both BB’s debut and sophomore effort are better than this album. That’s unfortunate, I guess. But that’s a pretty high bar to set Vaporwave-wise. This is an alright album, I guess. But I will always recommend BB0 and BB1 over this album. Sorry.
Lady Gaga – Joanne
As someone who is more than someone who likes a couple of her songs and less than a fan, I was looking forward to this album. While I love track one (Diamond Heart: very loop-worthy), I found the album a little patchy. That said, I still think it’s a must-listen. It’s filled with very interesting ideas, and lots of it is good straightforward pop. I’m not likely to bitch and moan (or sit still) when Perfect Illusion starts to play in a public place.
Deathspell Omega – The Synarchy of Molten Bones
Genre: Black metal
It’s very rare to come across an album that changes what you thought was musically possible. Find everything you need to know about this album in Unkitsch’s review.
Suma – The Order Of Things
Good first listen album produced by Billy Anderson (Sleep-approved producer).
Other than that, not much more to say about this one.
Jan Jelinek – Loop-Finding-Jazz-Records
Solid album of youtubetronica that will be appreciated as good work music by most. Though a lot of my compliments sound like thinly veiled insults (ref: insultocompliments), I like this album.
Farben – Textstar
Genre: Minimal techno
Same guy. More accessible. In my view, not only better, but worthy of ‘great’.
Ulcerate – Shrines of Paralysis
Genre: Post-death metal, I guess.
Holy shit. This album will blow your mind and melt your face. I nearly snapped my neck when I heard it for the first time.
Cult Leader – Lightless Walk
Ok. Again. This album will blow your mind and melt your face. I nearly snapped my neck when I heard it for the first time. But in a different way. Fans of heavy punk should check this one out.
Trap Them – Crown Feral
I’m very open about my love for Trap Them. This is a good album, but I don’t feel the same way about it as I did about Blissfucker and Darker Handcraft (genre: best metal) before it. That said, there’s no doubt in my mind that this is the best produced album on this list (Kurt Ballou, Kurt Ballou, Kurt Ballou)
A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service
Genre: Hip hop
I sense a longer piece about this album. There’s so much to say about it. One, that ATCQ are still relevant more than 30 years after they started doing this whole rap thing. Two, that they are much more than just relevant. Three, RIP Phife Dawg. Four: Songs like We the People, Dis Generation, and Melatonin are damn near perfect.
Kyuss – Blues for the Red Sun
Genre: Groove rock
A classic favourite closes the list. All fans of rock are likely to like this album or any other Kyuss album.
Until next time,