The Best Records of 2016 Part 2

I’ve already highlighted a bunch of records from 2016 that I believe to be cool as fuck and I’ve also banged on at length about the thrash metal renaissance – five of my favourite albums of the year are right there. However, there was so much awesome music around this year deserving a mention that my end of year round up merits a part two, so here goes…

The Lion and The Wolf – ‘Cardiac Hotel’ is one of the most lovely records I’ve heard in years. Its sublime blend of folky indie ticks all the boxes as it wraps the listener in a warm blanket of melancholy, the sadness of which manages to be uplifting and comforting in equal measure. The quality songwriting weaves a richly textured tapestry, striking an intimate chord with the listener as it deals with the everyday hurt in life. Thank you Thomas George.

The problem with the Pixies – ‘Head Carrier’ is that it’s not ‘Surfer Rosa’ or ‘Doolittle’, but if you take it on its own merit, it is a mighty fine record. Sure, one or two tracks are on the ordinary side, but there is still plenty of quality on display – ‘Classic Masher’ being as good a slice of indie pop as you are likely to hear, while the sound of Black Francis screaming his way through ‘Baals Back’ rolls back the years. Throw in the banger that is ‘Um Chagga Lagga’ and it’s a winning record.

The anarchic chaos that is Heck – Instructions is another record that surprised the shit outta me this year. Already famous for their frenetic stage show, the band formally known as Baby Godzilla managed to translate their wild abandon into a noisy as hell collection of attacking riffs and pummelling rhythms that transcends classification, such is the stylistic melting pot on offer. Just when you think it’s all frenzied mayhem they trip you up with a moment of subtle beauty or an absolutely stunning guitar solo. Well worth a listen – it’s exciting stuff.

My EP of the year over at Already Heard went to the superb Making Monsters – ‘Bad Blood’, whose six tracks of hard edged alternative rock are all killer. This is a band going places – they know how to bang out a bad ass riff and in Emma Gallagher they boast a really talented and versatile vocalist; she can do tender or angry, deliver a hook and even go guttural. Couple that with their sassy songwriting and you have a winning combination; can’t wait for the debut album.

I’ll admit that The Hotelier – ‘Goodness’ took me a few listens to get into, but once I did, it became a regular play. It’s a pretty deep record and worth investing some time exploring. For some reason, it reminds me of REM, but in a good way – I guess they are kinda like how I always wanted Stipe and Co to sound – intelligent lyrics in well structured engaging songs, only with an edge. Tracks like ‘Piano Player’, ‘Settle The Scar and ‘Soft Animal are all kinds of good, check em out.

Admittedly, I haven’t given it as much time as it deserves but man, Black Peaks – Statues is one spectacular record. From the furious opening and intricate twists and turns of ‘Glass Built Castles’ through to the shifting textures of ‘To Take The First Turn’ with its powerful blend of progressive hardcore, this is a rollercoaster of an album. It takes the listener on a heady journey through the aggressive, the dramatic and the beautiful; it is as haunting as it is engaging and makes for a truly powerful listen. Following a debut album as epic as this one is gonna be quite a task.

There is a subtly cool vibe to Solange – ‘A Seat At The Table’, as the younger Knowles sister stylishly pulls up a chair. This is a finely worked album that blends elements of pop, soul and R &B around Solange’s soothing tones, though her voice possesses a delicious ache just beneath the surface. There is a maturity to the songs and the insightful interludes as she expounds on race, womanhood and empowerment, that makes for a thoroughly compelling listen. Hypnotic rather than bombastic, assured rather than sassy, this is one classy record.

There is something almost elusive about Warpaint – Heads Up; it seems to be much more about the overall groove than individual songs as it rumbles hypnotically along. It is something of a master class in the use of beats and bass to create a vibe, as the understated guitar lines and gossamer thin vocals add a textured finish. I really enjoyed this record and it’s one that I keep going back to, trying to grasp its meandering indie groove; superb.

I’m sure there are other albums I could’ve included here, but I decided to focus on those that have most stayed with me to make this another excellent year of music. Roll on 2017….

The Best Records of 2016 – Part 1

If there is one dead cert in the world of music writing, it’s the end of year list – the golden opportunity to wax lyrical about all the uber cool shit we’ve been listening to through the year that we totally believe every other fucker should also be listening to. I’m just as guilty as the next pensmith; I mean, I’ve already done two – one for Already Heard ( http://alreadyheard.com/post/154430616852/record-of-the-year-2016-staff-lists), another exclusively on thrash metal albums, although in fairness it was a retrospective article analyzing the genre with a top 5 attached (https://hardpresseded.wordpress.com/2016/12/07/thrashback-best-of-2016/)

But lets face it, here in the blogosphere it’s basically a totally subjective list and isn’t really worth shit, unlike the top ten we came up with at AH (http://alreadyheard.com/post/154422480446/already-heards-record-of-the-year-2016) which involves several contributors. So, the final list is a kind of representation of the site’s view of the world of alternative rock, and therefore a pretty useful piece of retrospection. Anyway, my top ten is there, along with the site’s top ten, but I have to say that probably wouldn’t be a definitive list, nor would another one that I might write tomorrow. So what’s the point?

However, there is surely some value in celebrating some of the seriously cool records that have had an impact on me this year. It doesn’t need to be a top ten. They don’t need ranking. It’s enough to say that this is cool as fuck and you could do a lot worse than give it a whirl, you might discover something you love – it’s what Spotify is for, for fuck’s sake. So, here come a bunch of records I’ve been listening to pretty solidly this year and intend to keep spinning well into the future.

David Bowie – ‘Blackstar’ I was deeply moved by the death of David Bowie and wrote about it at length here:https://hardpresseded.wordpress.com/2016/01/12/303/ Listening to Blackstar is inextricably linked to the loss of this musical giant and was always going to be an emotional experience, but having gone back to it again and again since its release, I have to say that it really is quality and holds up well. ‘Lazarus’ is undeniably superb and the artistic merit of the record as a whole is unquestionable. Great record – excellent way to punctuate such an incredible cultural footprint.

I only got round to listening to Michael Kiwanuka – ‘Love & Hate’ a couple of weeks ago, but have had it on very heavy rotation ever since. Damn, what a great, honest record this is. Michael lays bare his conflicting emotions on this sublime collection that neatly combines a kinda classic seventies soul groove with a more contemporary feel and some achingly good guitar work. The title track is unbeatable.

Lisa Hannigan – ‘At Swim’ Great songs, cool vibe, lovely voice, excellent record – I keep going back for more.

Lonely the Brave – Things Will Matter is a good solid sophomore record from the Cambridgeshire boys and continues their climb up industry ladders. There are some quite spectacular moments, like the massive ‘Black Mire’, the excellent ‘Diamond Days’ and ‘Jaws of Hell’ that hint at a very bright future for British alternative rock.

Slowcoaches – ‘Nothing Gives’ came out about a week ago and I had the immense pleasure of five outta fiving it for Already Heard. The most exciting garage punk record in years, it has an energy comparable with The Strokes debut and rocks from beginning to end as it tackles issues like loss and anxiety. Heather Perkins is punk rock personified, making their brand of angry optimism instantly relatable – this band deserve to be massive.

The Cult – ‘Hidden City’ There’s nothing like your favourite band hitting good form again. Ok, it’s not ‘Love’ or ‘Sonic Temple’, but it’s creatively vibrant, still pushing boundaries and features some killer tracks. Ian Astbury‘s raw vocal on ‘Birds of Paradise’ and the killer hook of ‘No Love Lost’ find The Cult at the top of their game.

Another return to form from an eighties icon came on The Mission – Another Fall From Grace. Wayne Hussey took a conscious decision to dust off his twelve string and write an album bridging the gap between Sisters of Mercy and The Mission. According to the front man it was a painfully cathartic experience, but the vocalist can be justifiably proud of his band’s finest record since their peak. Sure, it’s as overblown and pretentious as you might expect, but Mish fans wouldn’t have it any other way. The title track is prime example of Wayne’s songwriting prowess and ‘Tyranny of Secrets’ shows they can still deliver a good old Goth rock banger.

Black Foxxes – ‘I’m Not Well’ is quite simply one of the best records I’ve heard in years. It’s rawness imbues it with power, energy and emotion at a level few bands come close to. Stone cold killer from beginning to end – album of the year by far.

Thrashback – Best of 2016

When I first heard Dave Mustaine shredding faster than ever on ‘Fatal Illusion’ it was clear something had shifted. Sure, Megadeth and a bunch of other bands have all continued releasing thrashy records over the years, but it had all gone a bit stale. So when Dystopia dropped and suddenly Megadave was sounding fresh and exciting, it meant something was in the air. And sure enough, little by little, thrash bombs kept dropping and exploding through my headphones with a ferociousness and fervour I hadn’t heard in years.

As in 1986, three of the big four have released killer records this year, but as well as the big guns there are a crop of other groups who have also put out some of the finest work of their careers and some of the finest thrash albums ever. The list of quality releases this year is quite literally massive, the genre as a whole sounding vibrant and exciting.

I put this down to the marginalization within the music industry; now that there are so few major labels, all of which concentrate their eggs firmly in the mainstream basket, there is a gaping hole on the alternative side of things, so counter culture is thriving, and it is largely fueled by the internet. This has meant that smaller boutique labels like the fantastic Nuclear Blast have been able to deepen otherwise niche markets like that of thrash. A quick flick through the label’s roster and it’s obvious that much of the current excitement on the thrash scene can be laid at their door. Then there’s Metal Blade and Roadrunner and their enduring dedication to the metal scene.

Also, now that we live in super slick, social media obsessed, internet madness, there seems to be a kind of retro cool about the old school sound, suddenly, it’s OK to go back to the eighties, so the older groups now sound relevant rather than dated. Anyway, this eighties vibe and vibrant alternative scene has translated into some mighty fine records and made 2016 the biggest year in thrash since the glory days. Here’s what it’s all been about…

Suicidal Tendencies went back to their roots to great effect with ‘World Gone Mad’, their most defiant and most hardcore record in years. It was great to hear Mike Muir as passionate as ever, and with Dave Lombardo putting in a titanic drum performance they managed to retain a thrash edge despite the album’s punkiness. Meanwhile, Danish veterans Artillery put together a good old fashioned riff heavy superfly thrasher on Penalty By Perception, which is one seriously riffy record. Of the younger bands kicking up a storm, the standout is undoubtedly Vektor, whose ambitiously conceptual Terminal Redux makes for a technically excellent record and is well worth investing a bit of time in. They put their abilities to good effect, creating a keen sense of drama that resonates between the multiple layers of this highly textured epic. There have also been noteworthy releases from the likes of Voivod, Flotsam and Jetson, Vader and the massive Gojira. However, for my top five it’s strictly old school.

5) Testament – ‘Brotherhood of the Snake’
Of this year’s releases it was ‘Brotherhood of the Snake that was the most pleasantly surprising. I always had a soft spot for Testament and loved their early material, but there was always a feeling of unfulfilled potential with ‘Souls of Black’ failing to deliver on their early promise, despite selling well. Therefore, it was brilliant to hear them produce a record as strong as ‘Brotherhood…’; they sound harder, heavier and faster than in their heyday, but have managed to incorporate their melodic tendencies with some killer hooks; Chuck Billy is sounding incredible, with the kind of performance younger singers could learn a lot from. ‘Black Jack’, ‘The Number Game’, ‘Stronghold’, ‘The Pale King’ are just some of the stand outs on this relentless collection of all killer no filler.

4) Megadeth – Dystopia
There are moments on ‘Dystopia’ that could slip easily into Megadeth‘s impressive cannon of material. The above mentioned ‘Fatal Illusion’, which rocks as hard and fast as anything on ‘Peace Sells…’, being one, the ‘Rust’ish ‘Bullet To The Brain’ another. Then there’s the double punch of the massive ‘Poisonous Shadows’ and instrumental ‘Conquer or Die’, where Kiko Loureiro (Angra) and Lamb of God Chris Adler really earn their salt, proving the catalysts for this reinvigoration. Sure, ‘Dystopia’ has its flaws, but this is without doubt Mustaine’s strongest album in years and with the current line up they actually sound exciting again.

3) Anthrax – ‘For All Kings’
Despite sounding a little overblown on first listen, For All Kings has stood up well and repeated listens have revealed more and more depth to this excellent record, the songs are excellently crafted and there is a surprisingly strong sense of melody to temper their ever present thrashiness. Joey Belladonna is quite simply outstanding throughout and musically speaking there is plenty to get your ears around, from stone cold bangers like Evil Twin to textured epics like the sprawling ‘Blood Eagle Wings the entire album rocks.

2) Metallica – ‘Hardwired…to Self-Destruct’
At its best ‘Hardwired…to Self-Destruct’ is up there with Metallica‘s finest work. The first half of the album, or disc one of the CD, delivering in spades. However, the second half is found wanting and lends a slight sense of disappointment to what could have been their best record since ‘Puppets’. Once again, the band’s incapacity to self edit has meant that some really good riffs are wasted on some really average songs. Even so, when it works, it nails it in style; ‘Moth Into Flame’ is their finest single since Enter Sandman, ‘Dream No More’ will be massive live and ‘Halo on Fire’ plays like a retrospective of their entire career. There is a welcome ‘Kill ’em All’ vibe underpinning the record, with some serious classic riffing liberally peppered around the album, and all in all it is very, very good, but just misses out on being the modern classic we were hoping for.

1) Death Angel – The Evil Divide
Without doubt the most vibrant thrash release of the year is ‘Evil Divide’; with stacks of sublime riffing from Rob Cavestany and absolutely superb vocals from Mark Osegueda. From the moment opening track ‘The Moth’ starts racing away on the back of some fly riffage, the album hits a pulsating thrash fury that is relentless. The full on attack of each and every track is nothing short of killer, it sounds fresh and exciting, yet has a foot firmly in classic thrash territory, while boasting an energy and groove that is hard to beat. ‘Hatred United, United Hate’ is simply awesome, while the performances on the emotion fueled ‘Lost’ are nothing short of stunning; then there’s the killer guitar work on tracks like ‘Breakaway’ and the excellent arrangements of songs like ‘It Can’t Be This’ and ‘Father of Lies’. Not only is it an immediately likeable album, but it stands up – it doesn’t get tired with repeated listens and at a tight ten tracks there’s no baggage and it never gets indulgent. Great fucking record.