Good evening all,
This edition of Music to Your Ears is going to highlight those albums and songs I’ve fallen in love with over the first six months of 2016. I hope you enjoy them all as much as I do!
Hymns – Bloc Party
I’m surprised a bit myself that this is my choice for number one album from the first half of 2016. Given my penchant for female singers, I would have thought my number two or number six choice would be up here. Instead, a revelatory spin from singer Kele Okereke and guitarist Russell Lissack struck me down with its raw interpretation of aging, romance and existential dreaming. Deriving inspiration from bands like The Cure and Joy Division, the style has always been sensitive yet a bit disconnected. With Hymns I found that subtlety had crept into their lyrics, and tenderness broke Okereke’s typically monotone vocals into a tremble that shook me. You can find more here, when I reviewed the album upon initial release.
another eternity – purity ring
Simply put, this album is up here on the strength of one of my favorite songs of the year (“bodyache”) – however, since that song blew me away, I of course had to learn more about the new album, and I found more immersive fuzz pop to enjoy. When the band had first emerged with 2012’s Shrines, I wasn’t terribly impressed. I forced myself to enjoy that album mostly on the recommendation of like-minded college friends, but it just wasn’t my cup of tea. The lyrics felt too calculated and I mostly don’t think the time was right for the two of us. “bodyache” struck me to my core, however, and I was introduced to the wonder that is this sumptuous band. I’m going to revisit their earlier work at some point, but to their credit, songs like “Dust Hymn” and “Stillness in Woe” are miles ahead of where they’d started. The group has quickly evolved into a stellar example of the state of noise pop today. Unfortunately for me – I didn’t discover this for an entire year – I thought this came out earlier this winter, but it was from February 2015!
Love You to Death – Tegan and Sara
A very recent edition to this year’s available music, Tegan and Sara emerged just last week with their latest and greatest. Expanding upon the great ‘80s reverence they began with 2013’s Heartthrob, the Canadian twin sisters are easily some of the best chanteuses we have today. Besides my entry in the songs list (“100x”), I’m certain that “Boyfriend” and “Dying to Know” will wind up in my end of the year compendium. “White Knuckles” is also a dust-up worth checking out. Read more about what I thought (last week) here.
A Moon Shaped Pool – Radiohead
After a few years of ubiquity, Thom Yorke and co re-emerged to bring us one of their best and most thoughtful albums ever. The whole thing feels like a ‘70s film, and that’s exemplified best in their music video for fantastic first single “Burn the Witch”, in which they re-animate the plot of 1973 classic horror The Wicker Man but with cute claymation characters. A Moon Shaped Pool is eerie like that – one moment assembling a riff to the stars, the next bursting forth from the nightmare that you’re stuck alone in space. Radiohead has always been ethereal, sometimes to the point of annoyance (In Rainbows, for some) but they take that to new heights here, even though it means they’ve ascended past the strange condescending plateau it had brought them to in the first place. Read my initial review here.
Blackstar – David Bowie
Tragically, 2016 has been a big year of celebrity deaths, with one starting it off so surprisingly and unique that the whole world took notice. David Bowie, knowing he was stricken with terminal cancer, recorded one last love note to his life and the world. Entitled Blackstar, it could be described in one way like that enigmatic Ziggy Stardust finally taking to the cosmos and imploding into his own version of a black hole. At once introspective and enlightening, it was also like that movie Get Low, where Robert Duvall gets to attend his own funeral. Besides close friends and relatives, no one knew Bowie was dying, so for the weekend – Bowie got to see his album take flight one last time. Songs like “Lazarus” and “I Can’t Give Everything Away” put a dour cap on a brilliant career, but they’re certainly no less genius because it’s his auto-eulogy. In fact, if nothing else, Bowie went out on an upswing, marred only by the fact that we couldn’t tell him ourselves.
Good Grief – Lucius
I’d already expected this to be amazing, based on last year’s preview “Born Again Teen” – which I included in my year-end singles list for 2015. That may have actually tempered my expectations, because as I listened to this album over and over towards the beginning of spring, I was definitely delighted, but felt that I was forcing myself to declare it best of the year at that point. I had a similar feeling with Modest Mouse’s album Strangers to Ourselves so I imagine with nearly a year of retrospection behind me, I’ll land this higher. As for now, it’s still good for seventh – on the back of songs like “Madness,” “Something About You” and “Gone Insane”. It even prompted me to purchase it on vinyl, something I rarely do unless it’s solid gold. After a few more listens, it’s settled in as my example of girl-power pop for the year, so I’ll probably still hold it to a certain standard as we roll along.
SVIIB – School of Seven Bells
The true surprise in this year’s group of female led bands was School of Seven Bells’ last album – since lead singer Benjamin Curtis tragically passed away at the end of 2013 from lymphoma. Singer Alejandra Deheza compiled a final memorial to her fallen bandmate, as well as the band in general, which had once enjoyed the company of her sister Claudia as well. While David Bowie’s Blackstar may seem like a somber affair in light of his death, compacted with that album’s release, this album (SVIIB) takes on a much more hopeful air. The mood is grandiose in nature, celebrating the life of the band rather than reveling in its eventual failure. Much like Blackstar which promises listeners that it wasn’t a lost life, SVIIB lets the band’s many fans know that they were highly appreciated and that there is much more life after death, whether it be a family member, career, or close friend.
Anti – Rihanna
Another surprise, perhaps, for me was that Rihanna’s new album was so good. She’d always been on my radar for her career – from the first time I heard “Umbrella” in my internship way back in 2007. This album takes on a lighter, more mature tone than previous efforts, however. I appreciate the subtlety in “Needed Me”, the homage to ‘80s R&B with “Kiss It Better” and the sweaty come-on of “Desperado”. Rihanna has always been at her best while stating the plain facts with confidence, and besides the latter song, first single hit “Work” hit big in the charts. All this, compounded with my favorite track “Never Ending” and the Tame Impala cover “Same Ol’ Mistakes” makes this for one of the best albums of the year.
Post Pop Depression – Iggy Pop
In the aftermath of the Bataclan nightclub shooting in Paris back in November, Iggy Pop and Queens of the Stone Age singer Josh Homme (often collaborator with Eagles of Death Metal, the band performing during the massacre) decided to partner on a cathartic musical piece. The result: Post Pop Depression, which could ultimately also be Iggy Pop’s own mourning for good friend David Bowie. Homme’s direction with the album was to analyze the time in one’s life when your usefulness is nearing it’s end, and what one’s legacy might be when all is said and done. In light of all that happened in the subsequent year, it only makes sense with songs like “American Valhalla” and “Vultures” that we get that sense of accomplishment in Pop’s 17th studio album.
California – Blink-182
A late addition to this, as it came out merely a week ago, the punk-pop trio we grew up with and loved throughout the 2000s is back with their best yet of the group’s re-emergence. Sadly missing are Tom DeLonge’s vocals, but they’re suitably replaced by Matt Skiba (Alkaline Trio). The album typically wanes and ebbs with blustering anthems like “Bored to Death” and “No Future,” then effortlessly (and sadly a bit predictably) soft touches in songs like “Home is Such a Lonely Place” and “The Only Thing That Matters”. If this is predictable post-pop-punk, then I’m actually alright with it, if it means more from one of my favorite bands. They don’t sound stale, despite the age difference, and they don’t sound lost without one of their founding members. I’m perfectly happy with this.
Weezer (white) – Weezer
The Life of Pablo – Kanye West
Cleopatra – The Lumineers
99c – Santigold
iii – Miike Snow
Death of a Bachelor – Panic! At the Disco
Lone Ranger – Rachel Platten
After last year’s single “Fight Song” blew up the charts through 2015, I dismissed Platten as a flavor of the week, a sort-of Demi Lovato knockoff. Not wanting to truly give in to my preconceived notions, I gave her album Wildfire a listen when it premiered in early January. What I found was an impressively produced, delightfully catchy collection of tunes, highlighted by the heart thumping anthem “Lone Ranger”. It might help that it quarterbacks my running playlist.
On My Heart – School of Seven Bells
As you’ve read above, SVIIB is a starkly sentimental album, covering a lifetime of feelings from front woman Alejandra Dezera in the shadow of bandmate Benjamin Curtis’ untimely death. Like Rachel Platten’s “Lone Ranger” this track bears down on you with unrelenting speed. I suppose that’s just the theme of the first half of the year, distracting oneself with rapid fire lyrics.
100x – Tegan and Sara
Another somber tale, “100x” relates a relationship all too many of us are familiar with – being stuck in an unloving but safe space with someone we’d once hoped would truly love us back. Tegan and Sara have always been good at looking at the found side of love, putting their wickedly enchanting spin on it. They typically have a masterful knack at finding a way to incite hope where there otherwise would never develop any. “100x” is a perfect example of that.
Dearly Departed – Shakey Graves (feat. Esme Patterson)
I first became familiar with Shakey Graves years ago when a friend met him outside a New Orleans bar. He was a whirlwind of a person, and I never expected him to gain such a large following, but my friend was enthralled with him. I was wrong for ignoring him then, because he has rapidly become one of my favorite discoveries. “Dearly Departed” reminds me of “Lazaretto,” Jack White’s anxious ballad to loneliness from 2014. In this, Graves swoons alongside Esme Patterson, marvelously supporting his harmonies about haunting each other years after their relationship has fizzled. I can’t wait to eat up all of Graves’ past and future work.
Never Ending – Rihanna
It’s easy to say I’m impressed with the maturity Rihanna has shown in her latest, Anti. “Never Ending” on the other hand, takes it even a step further – it puts her in vaunted superstar territory, at least in my opinion. Most had already placed her there – I’m telling you that if you hadn’t yet, this song should help push you over the edge.
Ophelia – The Lumineers
I mentioned this best in an earlier review of the song, but I am delighted that The Lumineers turned out NOT to be a one-hit wonder, especially since that first hit was merely okay. This is an instant folk classic, and the album it buoys is fantastic as well.
Hurt Me – Lapsley
Another running song, albeit a strange one, this song drives home its point in a much more somber way. Lapsley is a softer version of Sia, perhaps one inspired by her long career and taking a shorter distance to the front of our collective minds. I highly anticipate her album as one of the ones I talk about at year’s end.
bodyache – Purity Ring
As mentioned above, Purity Ring has one of the boldest albums of the year, and “bodyache” clearly exemplifies what’s great about fuzzpop today. Singer Megan James lulls you into a false sense of relaxation before bludgeoning with her angelic heartache, while Corin Roddick blasts home the beat, straight into your gut.
Burn the Witch – Radiohead
Mentioned earlier as well, Radiohead came back in a big way in May – with a music video inspired by the classic ‘70s horror film The Wicker Man. “Burn the Witch” tells, in gleeful Claymation the film’s story set to a delirious symphony only Radiohead could produce. This was the foretelling of a great album to come later that summer.
Hummingbird – Kyla La Grange
I was high on La Grange with her debut album Ashes and follow up Cut Your Teeth. Now she’s back with perhaps her flightiest song yet, “Hummingbird” anticipating an album to come later this year. If you haven’t noticed, a majority of my favorite songs end up on my running playlist, and this one is no different. It helps to have something to get you that next mile, and this may be the best of the bunch for that purpose. Also, holy crap this music video is fascinating.
Something About You – Lucius
LA Devotee – Panic! At the Disco
Can’t Get Enough of Myself – Santigold
Hell No – Ingrid Michaelson
Boyfriend – Tegan and Sara
Here’s to hoping the rest of 2016 brings music as great as these singles and albums!