GoldFlakePaint’s

 Essential Albums

of 2016

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words by:

alex wexelman, ben shaw, guia cortassa, jordan gorsuch,

kezia cochrane, ross jones, sammy maine, tom johnson, trevor elkin

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Our ‘Album Of The Year’ is Mitski’sPuberty 2” – for an in-depth feature on that record please click here

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So here we are again. Another year, another list. Only this time we’ve done it a little differently; no ranking, no top ten, just a whole heap of albums we’ve loved this year and some words on what they’ve meant to us, in this year of all years. I’m sure I speak for many of us when I say that 2016 has been a rough ride, but I think it’s testament to the brilliance of these records – and so, so many more – that they’ve managed to still mean something, to leave something lasting within the mess that we’re all still trying to work through. We go in deep on each of these choices; no copying-and-pasting, just a new reflection of what makes each of these records a pertinent character in each of our own worlds.

There will also be one official GoldFlakePaint approved ‘Album Of The Year’, because it’s nice to keep the run going, so keep an eye out for that tomorrow. But, for now, grab a pair of headphones, your favoured hot drink, and work your way through the list below. As always, we hope you find something new to soundtrack your season and the days, months, years, beyond. Thanks for sticking with this website; we’ve got some big plans for 2017 and we hope to see you there.

Look after yourselves and each other,

Team GFP

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Our end-of-year coverage is kindly supported by TicketSelect, a ticket price comparison website which finds tickets for your favourite gigs from a variety of online ticket sellers: “One search, all tickets”

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Lomelda – 4E*

Punctum Records (Buy)

I find that I wish I was yours
And belonged to all the birds nesting on the porch
And all the trees along the river gorge
And every windswept metaphor –
All of yours until I am nothing more.

There are records that you end up writing about in varying different places, so much so that you feel, before even sitting down, that the pen has run dry; that everything you wanted to say has now been said. We unveiled Lomelda’s 4E* on these very pages, and I went on to write about it in a few other places, and yet I still feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface of what the songs, not only mean, but do to me. An acoustic take on her band’s wonderful 2015 LP, Hannah Read recorded this stripped-back counterpart late one night in a recital hall in Waco, Texas, and from the outset it positively burns with that aching, tender, world-weary heart that has become such a poignant staple of American literary work.

Shaped by a sense of summer-tinged nostalgic longing (or perhaps that’s simply the effect it has on me), the record unwinds beautifully across its nine-tracks, feeling like a true story, rich, vibrant, fully-realised, as Read’s incredible voice sings songs of travelling, of growing old before you’re ready to do so, of a land shaped by endless roads and endless nights, of the stars and the sun and the quiet lives that punctuate the stillness. “I’m not sure many of you will like it much. It requires more patience than I’d like. Forgiveness, even. It is static and small, privileged and careless, indulgent, digital, bare and a lil embarrassing,” Read said, when introducing her work and, aside from the embarrassment, is it every one of those things and more. A timeless, graceful dusting of magic that still creeps in to my conscience now and again, whether I’m in its presence or not; and ain’t that always the way. (TJ)

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Pinegrove – Cardinal

Run For Cover (Buy)

“How’d you get so tangled up in my thinking?” sings Evan Stephens Hall on “Angelina”, a 2014 track from his band, Pinegrove. Such sentiments have echoed through my own head at varying points over the past couple of years, as the band’s music became more and more ingrained with, well, me. It takes a special connection for a record or song to feel like an appendage of oneself; that it happens at all is miraculous, and so we should take every chance to shout about it when it does. I don’t know how many times I’ve listened to the songs that make-up ‘Cardinal’ since its release earlier this year but, against all odds, the reward from doing so has never once sagged. Each and every listen stirs something, burning through the veins while the words and ways of these rugged, resilient, beautiful songs bury themselves in the same way that memories do, spread roots that sometimes flower at the surface when we need them the most, or when we never knew we needed them at all.

Essentially a collection of country songs, but woven together with voluminous instrumental adornments, that has seen the (astonishing) live band swell to a six-piece, “Cardinal” feels like the ultimate document of that tipping-point between adulthood; the weariness of ageing before we’re ready, the consequences of the mistakes we’ve made and are making, the sheer brevity of human life staring you back in the eye for the first time.

Introduced by the immediacy of “Old Friends”, with its exploration of a life hanging together by a thread, coupled with a searing sense of nostalgia for people and places we once felt apart, remains the year’s greatest opening track. Armed with a set of lyrics that can sweep the rug out from under you with one seemingly plain-stated couplet (“I saw leah on the bus a few months ago, I saw some old friends at her funeral”) it sets the tone for a record that, though short and fleeting, will stay with you for a very, very long time. In more succinct terms; my favourite band in the world.

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Yohuna – Patientlessness

Orchid Tapes – (Buy)

Completed after years of upheaval and constant relocation while searching for creative satiation in her life, ‘Patientness’ was the most suitable of titles for Johanne Swanson to name such a beautifully empathetic record, one that casts aside all formidably forceful impressions of negativity with shrewd acceptance and gathered experience. Crafting together fragmented notions, confused energies and overwhelming moods – Swanson arranged something so calm and self-reliant, the record balanced by a finality in its sentimental tone and temperament. “The Moon Hangs In The Sky…” is an awakening, a teaching in allowing recollections of presence in the most unadorned of times as walking home on a Sunday night to embrace you and be thankful – it’s so prescient it’s stunning.

Throughout lies a harmonious attachment between Swanson’s spectacularly impactful solitary moments and the wondrous, evocative arrangements that are arranged with friends such as Emily Sprague of Florist. The wonderful synth that basks in tranquility through “Steel Sinks” is as much a relative as a stranger to the elongated chords that swell around “Apart” and such simple symbolism of contrasting elements bound by a warmth is exactly how Swanson perceives these lives that we lead – with an anxious unknowing of the future, but comforting memories of just being happy existing. (RJ)

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Choir Boy – “Passive With Desire”

Team Love Records (Buy)

Choir Boy’s “Passive With Desire” is the kind of record we dream about. Not just a stunning, stirring piece of work that arrives at our feet, mysterious and fully realised, but also coupled with an artist that has an inspiring stance and story all of their own. Released via Team Love Records and spellbinding from the first soft lilt of its swaying electronic pop, it’s an album that feels so essential in the here and now despite the lack of time and place it so beautifully hides.

“I was the Mormon to my punk friends and the punk to my Mormon friends,” Alex Klopp told us in this interview, and that bridging of characters, of shifting moods and ways and desires depending who’s casting their eye upon him is indicative of a record that so beautifully captures the restlessness and relentlessness of just existing in this day and age. Informed by a voice, and a set of songs, that channel the likes of Tears For Fears, while still sounding so excitingly present, “Passive With Desire” remains an astonishing feat, and one of the most resoundingly endearing, awe-inspiring journeys of 2016.

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The Hotelier – Goodness

Tiny Engines (Listen/Buy)

“Make me feel alive/Make me believe that I don’t have to die” Singer/bassist Christian Holden places the weight of the universe on the small, brown fawn that he spots while spending time in a winter cabin with a friend in the middle of nowhere. “Soft Animal” is one of the most rousing tracks on The Hotelier’s newest pastoral-inspired album, ‘Goodness’ and one of the most thoughtful. It demonstrates Holden’s ability to mine the smallest of details for the biggest revelations: “The ring around your mothers heart/Grows saccharine then falls apart.” That’s why it hurts when Holden reveals that a rifle shot rang across the woods; is there any beauty that humans don’t tarnish? Let’s not give the impression that ‘Goodness’ is a nihilistic album, it actually is an album that celebrates the beauty found in the world, but Holden does not let humanity off too easily. New England’s interminable fields and exuberant wilderness are the album’s setting as Holden evokes transcendentalism (the inherent goodness of humanity and the natural world), a few snags trip up the band despite their newfound resolution to stand in the light.

“Two Deliverances” is reminiscent to the harrowing hooks found on their breakthrough album, ‘Home, Like No Place Is There’ and it is the first moment of the album where Holden lets us in on his self-doubt. “But in the quiet empty hours of my afternoon what am I supposed to do?” Holden shouts desperately, showing the cracks in his meditative philosophy. You can’t exorcise all of your demons through sheer will. “Settle the Scar” is a memorable track that fully embraces the young tragedies and fuck-ups that the band was so invested in when they first started. Old habits die hard. That’s why the album cover is so stunning; it focuses on the people that all of our young protagonists that litter the lyric books of our favourite emo bands will become.

“Opening Mail For My Grandmother” is a beautiful, soft, and sympathetic digression. It signals a transitional period for a band that is looking for new ways to write about the world. It focuses on an age bracket that is often overlooked and taken for granted. It’s a powerful and lovely image that stands in the midst of a genre that is starkly focused on the heartbreak and discovery of youth. The Hotelier don’t supply us with any easy answers, but they provide a sort of blueprint to catching happiness; to search for the little flickers of light that sustain us. (JG)

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Options – Maxed Out

Sooper Records (Buy)

According to his Bandcamp page, Options is “the solo project of multi-instrumentalist and recording engineer Seth Engel”, a statement that won our 2016 award for modesty. Engel is not (yet) as well known as the many bands he has produced, but once you’ve heard ‘Options’ you will certainly notice his hand in the work of Ratboys, Pinegrove and CHEW, as well as the five other bands he currently plays in. In that context, “Maxed Out” is probably an appropriate label for an Options album. But this album is no ‘go large’ meal – every song is under three and a half minutes, each note, dropped beat, sigh and cymbal splash is essential and accurately positioned with artistic intent. Engel is all about concise and pinpoint musical expression. He draws on a panoply of tastes and devices you’ll find in emo, post-rock, math-pop and the kaleidoscope of its interchangeable sub-genres, layering and weaving them, rather than piling them in some ham-fisted mash-up. With such solid construction, it’s difficult and probably redundant to single out any individual tracks, but a good entry point is ‘Kool’ an anthemic, bittersweet, blustering affair which cuts through the pretence of cool. Options keeps it real, through that rare combination of talent and something to say. (TE)

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CC Mose – Beat Me

Plastic Jurassic (Buy)

What are your favourite opening lines to an album? Maybe you’ve never thought about it, but I’d recommend. It can be a fascinating journey; working out which ones have stuck, which ones instantly draw you in, or make you sit up and listen. There are the infamous ones, such as Silver Jews sublime “In 1984 I was hospitalized for approaching perfection“, then the personal ones which just seem to stick for no real reason. I’ve always loved “Loving you has gotten weird” from Whisketown’s Pneumonia LP. This year the accolade fell to CC Mose, the working name of New York’s Chris Robbins who opens his wonderful “Beat Me” LP with a line that acts as both an inspired introduction and a thorough summation of what follows.

“I want to see sideways, when I’m looking straight ahead, and I want to know what death holds for me” Robbins sings, as that little riff is casually, but sublimely, joined by a little drum roll and a second guitar; shifting gently in gear as it meets the words. It feels wonderfully special, the kind of moment that you can see heralded in cult circles in years to come. That track, and the rest of what follows, is just as rewarding; the whole record unrolling like some hazy, romanticised soundtrack to a summer that you wished could stick around forever. It sings of friends and foe, of missed opportunities, of growth and introspection, of trying to grab a hold of life for just long enough to find some kind of truth that will allow to make some sense of it all. It gripped me from those first few words and it’s still gripping me now. A special, beautiful rock and roll record just when you didn’t even realise you needed such a thing.

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Bon Iver – 22, A Million

Jagjaguwar (Buy)

For something so fleeting and, on the surface, relatively simple, it says a lot about Justin Vernon’s third full-length that so much of it, so many listens on from its unveiling, still feels unexplored and unknown. While a lot has been made of the supposed weirdness of his latest creation, its worth noting that that monumental debut record, for all of its more stripped-back nature, was anything but your standard folk album. While the melodies were clear and wonderfully memorable, its lyrics were distinctly nuanced, much like its 2016 counterpart (“Only love is all maroon, Lapping lakes like leery loons, Leaving rope burns reddish ruse“) it’s just that the instrumental spread was far more restrained due to both the nature of his surroundings and his place within the musical world at that time.

If anything, then, ’22 A Million’ is perhaps the most natural of progressions, despite the clamour to label it as some bizarre left-field turn. Both the track titles, unintelligible and symbolic, and the lyrics, push the record down something of a skewed rabbit-hole, but this only allows certain moments of clarity to leap out of the record like a sudden burst of light in the dark. A prime example of narrative trumping actuality, so much of the talk surrounding this record is about how it’s his “Kanye” album, the moment all those warped vocal tricks and array of samples trump the songwriting within, and yet the record closes with two tracks where his vocal often feels as bare-boned and organic as ever before. The rest of the record certainly explores varying sonic departues, and both the opening half of the record and the extended list of samples make for a puzzling web, however, in its most memorable moments – the inspired and playful poignancy of “666 ʇ”, the open-armed, heart-racing splendour of “8 (circle)” – Bon Iver shape an almost-spiritual journey through Vernon’s own damaged psyche into an intriguing, powerful and utterly spellbinding spread of sound, colour and uninhabited ideas.

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The Radio Dept. – Running Out Of Love

Labrador Records (Buy)

For all their time spent between records, credit is most certainly due to The Radio Dept. for remaining such a cult name, but really it’s quite easy to see why such a group would be valued with such beloved spirit. The arrival of a new record from the Swedish trio was met with sheer youthful excitement and fond reminiscence, and by the end we were given not only fond memories, but new sense and understanding – ‘Running Out of Love’ a noticeable development from a group that have always had the penchant for progression.

Fading from their more atmospheric arrangements for something more concise and pop-led, the group presented a harsher, more political sound – one that illustrated their growing concern for the state of their native country under its current regime. In doing so, Radio Dept. explored the synthetic faculties of 90s-influenced electronica and modernised its foundations, channeling them into hook-filled braces of pressing judgements that did not hold back in its focus. “Occupied” computes as a brazen, beat-led statement – the band never sounding so vindicated having always delivered with such purpose. Vitally conscious, Radio Dept. quashed any notion of mellowing and delivered a record of modern substance. (RJ)

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Big Thief – Masterpiece

Saddle Creek (Buy)

“…There’s only so much letting go you can ask someone to do”, sings Adrianne Lenker as the tempestuous title track, “Masterpiece” peaks. It’s only the second song on the album, charging in as the more placid opener ‘Little Arrow’ dies out, but its defiant escapism and blustering chords set the stakes high for what should follow. More of the same would have made this album a passable facsimile for Van Etten or maybe Angel Olsen’s early albums, but Big Thief walk a very different path even if they whistle a familiar tune. Before you realise it, you are neck deep in Lenker’s tales of getting caught up in the murky undertow of love’s dream. With ‘Masterpiece’, familiarity and accessible songwriting belies the turmoil just inches under the calm, confident surface layers.

On “Paul” the words of lovers cut the deepest, longest scars into those we are supposed to protect and care for. “Real Love” is the years of taking that kind of affection, being shamed for it, but still gripping tightly to its decaying ideals for the sake of family; “Real love makes you lose blood, real love is a heart attack”. Alongside this darkness, there is a faint glow of hope flickering in the child’s eye view of a crazy world. On “Animals” and the “I like our truck” segue from “Interstate”, we are reminded of simple wonders: birdsong, the feathery candlelight reflected off hair being brushed, memories of parents laughing together, days out in the country. In the end, the sense of longing, of lost childhood and dashed potential which ‘Masterpiece’ creates either drives the knife deeper through your heart, or makes you grateful for what you have. (TE)

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Japanese Breakfast – Psychopomp

Dead Oceans/Yellow K Records (Buy)

‘Psychopomp’ is a record of circumstance. A record informed by a lesson in dealing with loss and dependency, and how such transitions in life form and alter you as a person. Michelle Zauner is a wonderfully honest and imploring personality who in this case is the one registering such personal magnification into a moving and empathetic record, one who deals with perilous subject matter with a level of blunt honesty that is as motivating as it is triggering. Intensely sentimental, A psychopomp is a guide, a spirit that directs a soul in the right direction, in this case Zauner’s being her mother who passed away, completely influencing the creation and nature of the record in its thematic approach. As loss and question of faith fills the glittering sounds of “In Heaven”, Zauner couldn’t be more lucid and poetically eloquent, a broken soul having the strength to pick us all up in the process. It delivers with an unconditionally heartfelt and earnest composure, whilst documenting the moments of Zauner facing noticeable new chapters – turning to her guide for support in her decisions. It makes for unquestionably heartbreaking listening, but most extraordinarily is edifying – by the time of the weighty closing track “Triple 7”, Zauner is our guide – emphasising our reliances and imposing strength on our own autonomy. (RJ)

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Fraternal Twin – Homeworlding

Ghost Ramp (Buy)

When it comes to brand new records that instantly make us feel nostalgic in our own weathered skin, few do it with such distinctive style as Fraternal Twin. Which is to say was that as we age, we tend to pin our hopes, dreams and, for that matter, our desperations, on things other than rock and roll songs, on documents that seem to so often reference teenage relationships and end of school terms, etc. Instead, we tend to affix them to ambiguous sounds, to shadows, to solitude, to grey matter, to the cracks in our skin. We seek solace or hibernation in poetic webs, in the complexity of feeling old before our time and the youthful bounce we can see tumbling away down the hillside in the sun, while we stand and watch from the shadows, doing little to stop it gathering pace.

Tom Christie’s songs sing of such misadventure, heck they ache with it. Last year’s “Skin Gets Hot” was a wonderfully consuming debut, with sentiments that drifted between cold melancholy and otherworldly retreats, and Christie’s new LP ‘Homeworlding’ takes both of these aspects to even greater heights; his skewed take on folk/pop music delivering a set of songs that brood quiet sadness in many of the same ways that adult life tends to do; in isolation, in detached weirdness, in the quiet folds of the day when we assume we’re alone. (TJ)

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Porridge Radio – Rice, Pasta and Other Fillers

Memorial Of Distinction (Buy)

‘Rice, Pasta and Other Fillers’ may be the most self-depreciating of food pun album titles we’ve come across, but upon listening it’s realised just how relatable a record in wit and underestimation of itself Dana Margolin of Porridge Radio has created with her now fully-formed group. Painstakingly raw, emotive and unafraid of facing the most fragile of thoughts that run through their minds at the speed of each one of their songs, ‘Rice…’ is a surprisingly warming listen, full of rich harmonies crammed with character and capricious structures that don’t hang around for longer than you can blink. “Barks Like A Dog” is beautifully timid and purposefully wild, giving into a dependency that’s intense – embodies the acute balance between calm and perplexity, the confused feeling of numbness following the most pressing of breakdowns – it’s devastating. Its follow-up “Walking The Cow” is but the opposite, a consistent traipse through remnants of trappings past and present and trying to simply make sense of why they are there in the first place – its astutely smart wordplay delivered with such enjoyable humour and inviting melodies. Dana Margolin is a gleefully colourful person, full of perceptive considerations and the drive to explicitly express them – in ‘Rice, Pasta and Other Fillers’, she has her first affirmation, one of what we hope will be many. (RJ)

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Noname – Telefone

Self-released (Buy)

“Don’t grow up too soon, don’t blow out the candles, don’t let the police get you”

Noname pulls beauty from the abyss. An intimate and rich work, Fatimah Warner’s lyricism pours through a perfected space with a gaze that’s ready to pick apart perceived truths through a biting majesty. Each word is carefully chosen to be as important as the next, without overdone inflections or cliched rhythms. Crafting out a space that is entirely her own, Warner doesn’t drown in her sorrows – instead she stays afloat with a reluctant hopefulness that in turn, allows a little light into the mind of the listener.

As ‘Telefone’ rattles through nostalgic samples, synth flairs and complimentary beats, the musicality is a lavish and thoughtful nod to the past but with an outlook and arrangement that feels fresh and modern. Warner tackles difficult subjects with a stern but gentle approach, commenting on abortion on “Bye Bye Baby” with lyrics like “God will help you spread your wings” and referring to a “play date up to heaven soon.” These are stories from a black woman’s perspective that are all too often silenced, shunned or cast aside for the more important privileged. The stories are soul-baring and focused but Warner always delivers them with a wink and a grace. ‘Telefone’ is a world that tries to see the good in just about anything; when exhaustion takes hold, Warner is there with a subtle but much-needed reprise.(SM)

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Kevin Devine – Instigator

Procrastinate! Music Traitors/Triple Crown/Big Scary Monsters (Listen / Buy)

Kevin Devine has been killed by his friends The Front Bottoms, perfected a dance routine in short-shorts for his mum’s birthday and written a song about the atrocious treatment of Chelsea Manning. A prolific and powerful songwriter, Devine has perfected the balance between light and dark over his 10 year career.

Although ‘Instigator’ is Devine’s ninth album, it feels ready to take on the world – a raw and uncompromising new force that finds liberation through its dynamic content. As a songwriter, Devine has the ability to capture nostalgia, moulding it into a story that forces us to look at ourselves and the world around us. Whilst he’s not a political songwriter per-say, he still uses his platform to showcase an important and empathetic agenda.

The album tackles pre and post-911 culture, police brutality, white privilege, and theocratic hypocrisy to name a few. Devine takes these huge issues and condenses them into thought-out narratives with hooks that that initially draw you in before slapping you with the importance of these issues. He’s an artist who is settled and comfortable in his output but that doesn’t derail from the magic he still manages to produce. You’d think Devine might’ve run out of ideas by now; ‘Instigator’ proves that even 10 years in, he still has a heck of a lot to say. (SM)

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Lisa/Liza – Deserts Of Youth

Orindal Records (Buy)

Some records are born with the capacity to shift the entire viewpoint of your day; to lift you out of your surroundings and deposit you somewhere else entirely, in to lands detailed and crafted by the magic they exude. Lisa/Liza’s ‘Deserts Of Youth’ is one such album; a seven-track, thirty-five minute(ish) journey that lays bare a suggestive collection of songs that haunt and compel from the very first meeting with the quiet utterances found within. Opening track “Century Woods” is indicative of such magic, a raw, soft, and ostensibly eerie folk song that drips with atmosphere.

Creeping on through six fascinatingly opaque minutes, Liza Victoria’s work aches with the imposing nature of wide empty spaces, of trees and hills lost to fog, of the sheer stillness of a person left alone in rooms and houses so much bigger than themselves. Utterly fascinating throughout, with a weight of sentiment that feels crushingly powerful despite the finesse its delivered with, “Deserts Of Youth” certainly has a specific time and place but approach it in the right mood and you’ll find something tremendously powerful and important. (TJ)

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Miserable – Uncontrollable

The Native Sound (Buy)

why do I feel so sad?
why do i feel it?
why do I feel it?

When you left, a part of me left with you. Who were you to take something that didn’t belong to you? My world collapsed around me; my index finger restlessly clinging for a resolve, an escape. Your foot pressed upon that finger and teasingly, you refused to look down. My sense of self became entangled in my woes. Desperate for new meaning, I searched every edge, only to be faced with a relentless replay of what could have been. I suffocate.

I know that you used to love me
I know that you used to love me
I know that you used to love me
I know that you used to love me

Rainfall introduces the opening track of ‘Uncontrollable’; its down pour mimicking Kristina Esfandiari’s sense of betrayal, of losing her sense of self through uncontrollable circumstance. Her grief can be felt through every pressing strum; her anger through every climactic conclusion. A simple, flippant sound bite of “I almost just got hit by a car; I’ll call you back,” takes on new meaning in an album that is existential in its delivery. There is no rein on emotion here, as Esfandiari creates a world haunted by the flickering imagery of memory – too distant to touch yet too close to ignore. (SM)

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LVL UP – Return To Love

Sub Pop Records (Listen/Buy)

‘Return to Love’s’ expansive 10 tracks demonstrate the prowess of the songwriting from trio Dave Benton, Mike Caridi, and Nick Corbo as they explore mysticism, in-flux relationships, and the push/pull of growing up – the newfound independence and the restrictive nature of responsibility. They tackle these interesting topics while creating their most sophisticated album instrumentally yet. The spirit of Jeff Mangum hangs around all of these tracks, simple acoustic strums and driving fuzz underscore the majority of the songs as the vocals earnestly dig their way under your skin.

Caridi deals with a loved one’s psychic trauma on “Pain” and attempts the line, “I hope you grow old/And never find love” that doubles as both a fleeting-goodbye and a conscious reminder that sometimes words can’t serve as the key to unlock another’s pain. As the band navigates the waters of difficult questions, the music follows suit by wildly shifting pitch and tempo (“I”) or a completely different genre (“Naked in the River with the Creator”). LVL UP isn’t the first band to channel 90s alt-rock bands and use distortion pedals to try and answer humanity’s most impenetrable questions, but no band may have done it this year with the swagger found here. They didn’t reinvent the wheel, but they might have perfected its use. (JG)

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Deakin – Sleep Cycle

Self-released (Buy)

If you didn’t have an Animal Collective phase at some point I’m not sure I can fully trust your musical taste. I’m sorry, that’s just how I feel. Lately though, the band has been less than the sum of its parts. I’ve found myself enjoying solo releases more than the group’s albums. It’s never been controversial to love Panda Bear – especially after that one big site bequeathed him with a cosign as the biggest thing in experimental indie rock. We all know Avey has been doing good stuff for years.

But Deakin; which one is he again? Wasn’t he the one who wasn’t even on your favourite AnCo record? OK, yes. Fair point. But the controversially long gestation period he took to create his debut solo album, ‘Sleep Cycle’, has paid off. All this time that Deakin was in the background he’s been furtively composing a minor masterpiece. It feels fair to say ‘Sleep Cycle’ got slept on, but it’s an album that washes over you. Its ambiance is of the ambient variety, but it also is surprisingly poppy. A few tracks feel like they’d be comfortable sitting on a mass market Animal Collective ‘Greatest Hits’ package in between “My Girls” and “Bluish.” Deakin is more than just the quiet member of AnCo, however, and this album would stand out even without its cursory association with the band. On this one, Deakin shines as his own man, so set your alarm and don’t sleep on Sleep Cycle. (AW)

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Frightened Rabbit – Painting Of A Panic Attack

Atlantic (Listen / Buy)

When you’ve grown up alongside a band – and, yes, ‘Midnight Organ Fight’ was my break-up album, (but literally as it was released, not in retrospect, which perhaps affords me extra points?) it’s difficult to work-out whether their newer work means something to you because of what it actually represents or because of what that band, and all the associated memories, mean to you as a real-life person, with a history and a life lived and a shed load of memories.

In retrospect, it was perhaps the former of those two quandaries that shaped my view of 2013’s the ‘Pedestrian Verse’ LP, aside from a handful of stand-out moments, but ‘Painting Of A Panic Attack’ has, over the past few months, attached itself to me in ways that make the latter choice seem much more pertinent. I got to know the record during the first family holiday I’ve had since childhood, as well as a great week away in the remote Scottish countryside, and both of those times seemed to bring out something new in the record; the quiet, brooding nature of some of the songs attaching themselves to surround landscape and people in that funny old way that music sometimes does. The blueprint wasn’t altogether changed from what came before, but Scott Hutchison’s and melodies felt a little closer to the bone than they have done in a while, taking the familial strands of the gut-thumping closing track “Die Like A Rich Boy” and quietly threading them through a collection of pop songs that still resonate a number of months down the line; as melancholic as they are meaningful.

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Martha – Blisters In The Pit Of My Heart

Fortuna Pop!/Dirtnap Records (Buy)

On paper, ‘Blisters In The Pit of My Heart’ is a humble offering of tender convictions and forlorn considerations – but this a Martha record, and so the whole record is dealt with such brilliance in expression and personality that it is a statement, a truly inspiring affirmation that anyone in need of reminding just how wonderfully human they are should listen to. How is every single track on this record such an absolute guitar-pop stand out as well? Genuinely? With each hook they open up another level of engagement that most struggle to locate – in essence they keep it simple, concise and so vital that you can’t not be actively moved.

At a minimum, the endearing words of “Goldman’s Detective Agency”, “Precarious (The Supermarket Song)” and “11:45, Legless In Brandon” are sure-fire proclamations that would move any number of lives that have felt isolation, exclusion and misunderstanding – but Martha do more than that, they most importantly give genuine hope of just getting through with defiance of such antagonism. It’s positivity moulded with sincere openness that evidently comes from honest encounters, finding those words of encouragement to believe in yourself that no one had given you the time to hear. Naomi Griffin and Nathan Stephens-Griffin aren’t just like you or me, because we are all fucking individuals together, and as damn important in this world as anyone else, and they are exceptional people for showing us that. (RJ)

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Hovvdy – Taster

Merdurhaus/Sports Day Records (Buy)

It’s difficult to write about the same of set of songs on numerous occasions; it’s even more difficult when said collection exudes such a sense of atmosphere that any kind of descriptive approach feels completely bound and led by metaphors and personal sentiments. We launched Hovvdy’s ‘Taster’ campaign with the premiere of its stand-out track, “Problem”, way back in early 2016, little did we know then that this small, bruised, lo-fi gem would go on to rack-up over 75,000 plays on Soundcloud alone.

The album that followed was just as affecting; the languid approach to it all, the scratchy, dim-lit tone of the voice and the music, creeping out of the speakers with a dulled charm that takes a few listens to truly appreciate. A duo from Austin, Texas, Hovvdy’s skill lies in the ability to sneak utterly captivating hooks in to songs that seem too weather and unadorned to do so. Like the sudden jolt of a treasured memory on the most listless of days, ‘Taster’ is a truly beautiful collection of songs dressed up as something dull and indifferent. Seek and you will find. (TJ)

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John K Samson – Winter Wheat

Anti Records (Buy)

“And no one knows we’re anywhere we’re not supposed to be, so stay awhile and watch the wind throw patterns on a field. ” If ever a lyric summed up an entire album then those aforementioned words, taken from the title-track from John K Samson’s new solo album, is it. First there’s the brooding, philosophising of time and place and our role within it – such a staple of Samson’s work with The Weakerthans – then there’s the nod to his surrounding environment, and the wheat crop that so inspired this new album; one that hides throughout the winter only to thrive again when the warmer weather arrives. Also diverting from these two somewhat vague arms to take in tales of drug treatment centres, technologies advancement on our daily lives, psychotic episodes at local quiz nights, and even the return of his feline character, Virtute, who dropped in and out of The Weakerthans back-catalogue, ‘Winter Wheat’ is a poignant, beautiful, and wonderfully compelling album, so rich in detail it feels like entering the world of some great novel; vivid, detailed, and one that stays with you for far longer than the running time. (TJ)

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Foreign Fields – Take Cover

Communion (Buy)

We’ve had to wait a long time for a new Foreign Fields; ‘Take Cover’ arriving a full four years after the duo’s mesmerising debut album ‘Anywhere But Where I Am’. Shackled, somewhat, by varying personal problems, which included starting the whole process over again after initially completing the project, the resulting album is a decadent, emotive, and often stunning piece of pop music. The soft vocals that so pertinently shaped their back-catalogue remain a key component and, coupled with their new-found exploration of subtle electronica, helped to craft a record that didn’t just feel like a natural growth, but one that raised the bar completely. From the restrained delicacy of “Dry” (“It really is the pit of where I was, the absolute bottom.” – Brian Holl) to the expansive, astonishing sprawl of “Weeping Red Devil”, the album is a striking document of fighting the fears that consume so many of us and shaping it in to something lasting, inspiring, and completely meaningful. (TJ)

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Andy Shauf – The Party

ANTI/Arts & Crafts (Buy)

Among all the German words the world needs to express feelings almost impossible to define, what is truly missing is the name of the peculiar sensation you get the morning after an all-nighter, when the gang rejoins to kill the hangover and the backlash of the party must face the light of day. It’s when your boyfriend notices you and one of his best friends smile at each other a bit too much, when an unexpected couple shows up together to join the meal, when bitter tears are shared over gone love affairs, and sunglasses help the terrible headache the one-shot-too-many you had left you as a reminder of your encounter. It’s when everybody asks each other questions about what really happened, only to get so many different versions that it’s impossible to put the puzzle pieces back together.

In the 38 minutes of this concept album, Canadian singer/songwriter Andy Shauf chronicles the people and the events of “a city the size of a dinner plate”. Like a TV series episode, the character’s stories develop before our very eyes, crossing path and changing points of views in the ten tracks. With his unique Saskatchewan accent, Shauf tells us about someone’s conversation with Sherry, crying over Jimmy, and with Jimmy, who fooled around Sherry once again. Someone showed up too early, “overdressed and under prepared,” someone else asks Jenny to have THAT talk, only to take it back immediately and having everyone laugh at him. The action is drenched with a warm sound; all Burt Bacharach and soft West Coast psychedelia. with doubled voices and airy strings over electric pianos and mild guitars. In all its vintage majesty, Andy Shauf’s is a party destined never to be forgotten. (GC)

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David Bazan – Blanco

Barsuk Records/Undertow Music Collective (Buy)

While Bazan’s “Trouble With Boys” video was something so crushingly poignant it threatened to overshadow all manner of context, the record that housed it was a suitably evocative collection of songs that found the Pedro The Lion producing one of the most embracing and compelling records of his most distinguished career. In many regards it feels somewhat misplaced to cite Bazan’s age-old sense of world weariness as one of the record’s strongest attributes, for his work has been that he first crept in to the world in his early twenties.

So while the blueprint might well be the same – though ‘Blanco’ scatters its canvas with beautiful synth/electronica – this record remains brilliantly distinct; a story told from the cracked-face of someone who’s been there and done it, the dull ache of time, of life rolling on with all its weight of memory ever present and ever burdening. “Trouble With Boys” remains the crushing centre-piece, however, and with each passing play (and watch) it sounds more and more like Bazan’s signature siren song; a towering achievement in a career simply full of them. (TJ)

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Carly Rae Jepsen – EMOTION Side B

Interscope Records (Buy)

Everything turns a certain shade brighter when you fall in love. There’s a spring in your step. You want to be a better person. You fall asleep easier. Carly Rae Jepsen captures everything that’s right with the world. She warms the soul and radiates positivity at a time that is often overshadowed by hate and isolation. These are love songs that make the spirit soar. They relish in their dizzying happiness and invite you along for the ride.

But she also knows how to do heartbreak. Jepsen has the ability to add a pang of nostalgia to her collapse, that enables her output to feel relatable and all-the-more emotive. Her writing circles around love in all its glory and all its devastating absence that showcases Jepsen’s ability to colour her world every which way.

‘Store’ is particularly silly that will make that trip to Tesco’s a shimmering experience. When you listen to the lyrics a little closer, you realise she’s ending her relationship by lying about running to the shop and essentially throwing up her deuces with no remorse. It is incredible. In all its bubblegum sweetness, you can’t help but produce a huge, huge grin upon each listen. In a year like 2016, Jepsen really did pull a gem out of a mess.

~

Kenji – I’ll Think Of Something

Sports Day Records (Buy)

Written the day before his eighteenth birthday, “Surplus”, the stand-out track from Kenji’s, is a stupendously smooth shape-shifter, drifting through the spoken-word opener, through the effortlessly laid-back groove of the chorus, to the more straight-up hip-hop influenced breakdown, with all the skill of someone far more nourished in both age and experience. The opening track on a record which Philadelphia artist wrote, recorded himself (he did the artwork too, of course), Surplus remains one of the year’s most satisfying entry-points, and its backed across ‘I’ll Think Of Something’ with an inspired collection of tracks that exists as a supremely chill but brilliantly inspired hybrid of hip-hop and bedroom pop.

The pastel-shaded backdrop of slick beats and hazy instrumentation is as good as anything the DIY bedroom-pop community delivered this year, while Kenji’s soft baritone and sweet falsetto acts as the perfect companion for such endeavours, delivered with just enough edge, and a burned-out poignancy, to give this little gem of a record a genuine heart alongside the skill of the craft that initially grabs the attention. A huge talent, and a sublime board from which to leap. (TJ)

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Claire Cronin – Came Down A Storm

Badabing Records (Buy)

Death comes in unexpected ways, and for some it does not come at all when it could. While very much an album about death, ‘Came Down A Storm’ is, thanks mainly to Cronin’s deeply affecting voice, a defiant celebration of life. A collaboration between Cronin and Deerhoof guitarist John Dieterich, it is a collection of dark folkish songs whose simplicity recalls a harsher, yet less complicated time. Dieterich’s atmospheric, turbulent guitar and sampled sounds is matched by Cronin’s poetic tales of ghostly misadventure and redemption, shared with us by crackling twilight campfire, with a voice that was intended for such a purpose. What is remarkable here is that Cronin somehow connects us to something beyond the music itself, to a rhythm that beats in the background our whole lives, but one which we only really hear in the stillness of our most authentic moments, in grief or humility. Like the handed down music of the first pioneers or settlers in a strange new land, the songs are implicitly traditional but describe an altogether different, alien world. Magical and terrifying. (TE)

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Hello Shark – Delicate

Orindal Records (Buy)

My taste and attention span shifts too frequently for me to name a definitive favourite album, song, or show of the hellish year that is (was) 2016. But I do have a favorite lyric. It’s a couplet via Hello Shark’s tender ballad “Jackson Browne”: “Baby I’m delicate / I don’t want to quit.” It serves as a nice epigraph for album ‘Delicate’ as well as a cry trigger / mantra for me, an overly emotional person who appreciates / tries to turn soft and lovely any time I have the chance. The other 11 songs are like Frida Kahlo’s ‘The Wounded Deer’, a self-portrait of the artist hurt, in pain, but one whose resilience is evident.

Each track is a vignette shaded with heartbreak, from seeing your ex at Drake night (something I’m surprised Drake himself hasn’t written about yet) to reminiscing about an ex’s definition of true love. When love is lost, it often feels like the world is crumbling down upon you—especially when your world felt like it was inhabited only by two. To go back to one can mean having to reckon with thoughts you’ve long put off.

By sharing these personal yet relatable feelings, songwriter Lincoln Halloran makes being lonely feel less lonely. His bass voice, creaky and wobbly like an IKEA shelf, is reassuring and complimented nicely by the whispered harmonies courtesy of free cake for every creature’s Katie Bennett. The instrumentation is paired perfectly: it’s sparse and often just guitar, subtle bass, off-kilter drums, sometimes a drum machine or an electric piano riff to punctuate the track.

These are songs for those who feel they’ve been losing so long. Songs for those who don’t need to be confronted by their failures—they have not forgotten them—but also song for those who don’t want to quit. (AW)

~

Maria Usbeck – Amparo

Cascine/Labrador/Rallye (Buy)

A “transcendental, musical dreamscape” is how we described Amparo upon its release back at the start of summer, and its considered, exquisite flow has only grown greater wings in the time that has since passed. Delivered these songs in her Spanish mother tongue lends a further mystical stance to a record that already delivers such enchantment through musicality alone. Eminently smart, alongside the alluring nature of its glow, the record was penned in various countries around the world, and such journeying lends the record a somewhat otherworldly personality that acts as perhaps its most pertinent feature.

Producer Caroline Polachek – of Chairlift fame – brings a considered sense of warmth to the record, and on tracks such as the swaying “Uno De Tus Ojos” or the fascinating sound collage that is “Jungla Inquieta”, Usbeck manages to create a world that feels wildly removed from the grubbiness of modernity, an endlessly fascinating excursion so full of sound and colour and caress you’ll be wanting to stay within it far longer than the record’s running time permits. (TJ)

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Kadhja Bonet – The Visitor

Fat Possum/Fresh Selects (Buy)

Pick any review out of The Visitor’s pile and it won’t be long until you find the word “timeless” scribbled within; spend a single second with the majesty of Kadhja Bonet’s voice and you’ll understand why that is. So graciously delivered that it feels devoid of any tangible sense of time and place, it’s a miraculous instrument all of its own making, flourishing and blooming in its own brilliant colour and design despite the lucidity of the instrumentation that backs it up.

An exquisite meeting of genres – from jazz and soul to experimental pop music – The Visitor shines with a gracefulness that feels wonderfully contagious; the record swirling around you until you feel fully buried within its mystical world; all effortless production and intricate detailing. As the album’s attached notes say: “Once we hear it, we recognise it as something that’s been harder and harder to find in the last thirty or forty years, though so badly missed.” Don’t miss out on this one; very, very special indeed. (TJ)

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Shya – Trying

DZ Tapes (Buy)

It’s hard to say just what it is about those noodly little bedroom-pop albums that allows them to get under the skin with such ease and prolificacy. Perhaps it’s the humanity that they exude, the authenticity of showing all the cracks and wears and tears with a searing sense of honesty; the same thing that allows us to treasure out-of-focus photographs with as much vigour as a perfectly-framed counterpoint. In a year full of gems that fit in to the aforementioned mould, Shya’s ‘Trying’ was one that we found ourselves returning to again and again. Initially consumed as something delicate and passive, the record has a number of inspired moments of magic within its frame to charm us back for further exploration.

Similar to Hovvdy’s ‘Taster’, in the way that it seems to hang like a solemn atmosphere in some listless afternoon, there’s an indefinable attraction to these songs, and a number of inspired little moments, that lifts it out of the gloom and into far more potent territory. “I’ve been fucking around for too damn long now” sings the opening track “going outside” and such sentiments are indicative of a record that always feels like it’s trying to shake the shackles that have held it in the shadows for far too long. A little record with a big heart, spend some time with ‘Trying’ and you might just find yourself with a brand new hand to hold in the shadows. (TJ)

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Weaves – LP

Buzz Records/Kanine/Memphis Industries (Listen/Buy)

Perhaps overshadowed somewhat by their astonishing live show (seriously; sell a kidney if you have to) Weaves’ debut album more than stood up to their early hype, presenting a rampant, dramatic, colourful explosion that is up there with the most consistent and exhilarating full-lengths that 2016 offered up.

A kind of soul/pop/rock/punk hybrid with the ability to make you dance at any given moment, the Toronto quartet flirt with the likes of Tune-Yards and Micachu, while still delivering something that feels wildly of their own making. Eminently quirky, but with a solidly smart spine that holds the whole thing together with a sumptuous and stylish ease, this is a debut record that feels anything but; as sure-footed, confident, and commanding as the very best of them. But seriously, go and see them live. (TJ)

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Julia Jacklin – Don’t Let The Kids Win

Polyvinyl (Buy)

Don’t let your Grandmother die while you wait,

a cheap trip to Thailand’s not going to make up for never getting to say goodbye.

I remember when my Grandma’s memory started to trick her. She’d put one sugar in her tea, place the container back in the cupboard, turn back to her tea and repeat the process. Sometimes seven or eight times. She’d smile when I entered the room, calling me by my Auntie’s name and asking me how my job at the local cafe was going. My mum told me to go along with it, to not make Grandma tired. I shouldn’t scare the woman who used to intimidate me as a child, with her big words and raucous laughter.

She slowly became a whisper of herself. During my first week at a particularly dull retail job in a new city, I had a voicemail from my mum explaining the news. In an empty staff room heat surged through my body and hot tears swam across my cheeks. I made a cup of tea. I breathed heavily. Like she, I found myself alone.

‘Don’t Let The Kids Win’ finds beauty in its universal truth. Its simplicity speaks louder than any metaphor ever could. Jacklin’s structures centre around a rhetoric that encourages self-reflection, urging you to seek answers from the past that will eventually allow you to step into a unclouded and hopeful future. (SM)

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Shura – Nothing’s Real

Interscope Records (Buy)

I often find myself in situations that cause my heart rate to fluctuate, my sleeves to cover my hands, my nails to become bitten. My world become blurred and frightening as repetitive thoughts infiltrate my surroundings and taunt the faces of those who look my way.

I see my heart beat inside a television screen
My body’s not connecting, no
They’re telling me that I’m fine
They’re telling me there’s nothing wrong
Game over
Nothing’s real

Shura is pure pop catharsis; a guiding, recognisable hand when your body feels tired and heavy. Her debut LP ‘Nothing’s Real’ was birthed from anxiety, lost relationships and never really feeling like you quite fit in but the magic in Shura’s execution makes it one of the most hopeful, outward looking albums of the year.

I dare you to listen to single “What’s It Gonna Be?” and not feel like a new human afterwards – it’s a banger but like the rest of the record, it’s a banger with an emotive and conscious stand point. Relatable in her delivery and bold in her candid execution, Shura creates the kind of synth-pop that makes you feel okay about life, even just for a moment. In a world that’s becoming irrefutably lonesome, ‘Nothing’s Real’ is a shining, comforting beacon. (SM)

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Cloud Cover – Mirror Me

Disposable America (Buy)

Presented with all of its track names in capital letters and a suitably disjointed album cover, Cloud Cover’s ‘Mirror Me’ is an album that wears its over-riding sense of eeriness on its sleeve; striking and for all to see. The solo of work of multi-instrumentalist Jenny Tuite, ‘Mirror Me’ feels like a collage constructed in pitch dark, where the blindness from such surroundings has led to figures over-lapping, pieces falling from the page, striking shapes formed by circumstance rather than design. A mix of shadowy drones, warped but often pretty instrumentation, and Tuite’s weightless, captivating voice, the record is a distinctly nuances under-taking but also one of 2016’s most unique pieces of work.

In other hands all of this might have led to a record that was too dark for its own good, but Tuite handles such instability with seasoned care, always managing to let the smallest crack of light in just when the darkness threatened to swallow the whole thing. Best consumed as one immense soundtrack to the approaching night, ‘Mirror Me’ is a fascinating, shape-shifting entity that can flip between moods and temperament in the blink of an eye. In its most endearing moments, however, it becomes something else entirely; a record not just informed by the darkness, but a companion through it; fascinating, formidable and always right by your side through it all. (TJ)

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Margaret Glaspy – Emotions and Math

ATO Records (Listen / Buy)

Margaret Glaspy’s debut, ‘Emotions and Math’, is an unassuming album that is no-frills but feels complete and fully realised. It is an album that is all killer and no filler (each song clocks in under three minutes) which is impressive if you note how much beautiful, romantic narrative that Glaspy is able to cram into these live-ready cuts. Following in the footsteps of Liz Phair and Joni Mitchell, Glaspy has carved out a path for herself with attention-grabbing hooks and simple rough n’ tumble riffs that bounce around in your head long after the song has concluded. Glaspy makes for an unlikely champion of the ordinary with her tappings of the everyday anxieties about topics like long-distance relationships, the awkwardness of a failed fling, or the drama that stems from being the spurned lover. It’s an album that makes the ordinary into the extraordinary, the simple into the confusing, the love-into-hate-into-lust-into-hate-into-some-sort-of-acceptance and back again.

The late-twenties writer is chiefly aware of young adulthood’s cheap promises, side tracks, dead ends, and false starts and her convoluted approach to this liminal space of living is refreshing and profound. “Why remember all the times I took forever to forget?” she asks on “Memory Street,” a song about suppressing the urge to dive back into a situation that is toxic for yourself. Glaspy tries with all her might to resist nostalgia’s warm glow and to stay strong before telling her lover to “go back to wherever the fuck you came.” It’s the cheer-worthy moments like this that kept us spinning this record all year long. (JG)

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Solange – A Seat At The Table

Saint Records/Columbia (Buy)

2016 will forever be remembered as the year the Knowles sisters taught us what it means being a fierce black woman in America. If Beyoncé is the firebug, Solange is the still water that runs deep; a talented singer-songwriter, a style icon and a civil rights ambassador with a sophisticated yet fiery taste, Solange reached her artistic peak in this ‘A Seat At The Table’. Sensual and strong-minded, in her music, Motown vibes resonate in a cutting edge neo Soul, with touches of psychedelia and electronic beats accompanying words of empowerment and rage, tracing an outright picture of a young woman of colour’s everyday life.

Mixing retro style and urban mood, the singer/songwriter/producer is unafraid of speaking her mind, be it in a song’s lyrics, in the visual poetry digital book that came out before the album, or in the essays she publishes on her Saint Heron website ––a platform devoted to diverse and marginalised voices–– which many times draw from each other for inspiration. She sings and reclaims her body, the black body so long mistreated in her country, the same way Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote about it in his masterpiece ‘Between the World And Me.’ Her frame is her reign, her afro, tamed by duckbill clips in the flawless album cover, becomes a crown in “Don’t Touch My Hair.” She knows where she stands, as she states in “Weary”, “But you know that a king is only a man/ With flesh and bones, he bleeds just like you do/ He said, “Where does that leave you?” /And, “Do you belong?”/ I do, I do.” Her own vocals are alternate to spoken words interlude by close friends and family, offering further commentary, such as Tina Lawson’s take on Black History. It’s a great lesson Solange’s teaching us with notable grace and pride. Our only role, here, is to sit in silence and listen. (GC)

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Camp Cope – Camp Cope

Poison City Records (Buy)

How can something so furious feel so life-affirming? There is so much love and passion in Camp Cope’s debut that, even after a million listens, I still find myself stuck to the chair and gripping onto the table as those drums kick in. Singular and unrelenting, the fuzz drums, magic fucking bass lines and Georgia Maq’s voice (oh man, Georgia Maq’s voice), these 8 short songs are everything. Not only was this an incredible debut, it also felt like the start of something. From the now, sadly, kinda legendary “girls to the front” incident, and the subsequent #ItTakesOne campaign, it felt like this year Camp Cope changed from being just a local band that released a great record, to a scene-changing force for good – breaking faces, and absolutely-no-doubt inspiring countless kids to smash things up and Get. Shit. Done.

And as the year draws to an end, and dad-radio dinosaurs Triple J label them “This Year’s Girl Band” (WOW, REAL GIRLS!), Camp Cope had already retaliated in the best way possible, dropping new song “Keep Growing” – pounding and fully focussed, ready – “I’ll keep growing my hair out, it’s not for you.” (BS)

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bedbug – if i got smaller grew wings and flew away for good

Self-released/Z-Tapes (Buy)

Interspersed with various soundbites from TV shows such as ‘Freaks and Geeks’, ‘The Office’, and ‘Scrubs’, Bedbug’s beautiful bedroom set is as DIY as they come, with songs such as the opening track “i recorded this last night when you were sleeping <3” indicative of a record that often feels like you’re peeking in to someone burrowed away, working through the night while the rest of the world goes about its nightly routine of rest.

Because of this, coupled with the personal growth and exploration that is depicted within, the record feels immensely poignant; sometimes weighed down by such things, but always willing and ready to battle through them, to move on to whatever comes next. The mood is always shaded, a dimly lit lamp in the corner of the room offering just enough light to work by. Soft keys underpin everything, with Bedbug’s cracked vocal cast as a lead character to get behind and root for, no matter how far personal or removed from reality it sometimes gets, such as on the crushingly endearing “i looked outside, it was hailing cactus needles <3” where bedbug sings: “And I’ve fallen apart lately but I think I’ll get a hold of it. I didn’t say that in the interview I said yeah I’ve got a hold of it. And then I turned into a beetle and flew into the restroom. Scurried a bit further it was snowing out the window. It was the prettiest of snowstorms reminded me of love songs. I sang them to my girlfriend, I’m glad I get to love her.” (TJ)

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Field Mouse – Episodic

Topshelf Records (Buy)

Episodic it might well be, but there’s a crushing sense of wholesomeness that makes this brilliant new record from Field Mouse such an emphatic and rewarding listen. Recorded in Philadelphia with Hop Along’s Joe Reinhart, and featuring guest turns from a host of heart-rock heroes, including Sadie Dupuis, Allison Crutchfield, and Joseph D’Agostino of Cymbals Eat Guitars, the ten track collection is perhaps one of the year’s strongest sets; in that it every second feels integral to the one that follows and the one that precedes, like removing one single brick could make the whole thing crumble to pieces.

Rachel Browne’s voice has always been a tool of formidable prowess, and it simply lets loose here, powering headlong through a series of songs that flip between heavyweight indie rock and ferocious pop-punk chant-alongs. Borrowing inspiration from all of those aforementioned guest stars, ‘Episodic’ is a melodic marvel and, while it’s been somewhat (unfairly) overlooked by the bigger names, it marks Field Mouse out as a chief operator in that big, bold world of left-field American indie rock that offers such a rewarding hand-to-hold in a year, and an age, when such things feel so fleeting. In short, a vital record from an ever-vital band. (TJ)

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Alex Cameron – Jumping The Shark

Secretly Canadian (Listen Buy)

In a parallel, dystopian time, Bruce Springsteen, instead of selling out arenas, ended up singing resentful songs in a dark Las Vegas bar. In our reality, this same person lives in the body of Alex Cameron. We see him in a smart suit with slicked back blond hair, sometimes his cheeks are wrinkled, as is an older version of himself possessed his figure unexpectedly. He is almost kneeling on stage while holding on to his microphone; It’s impossible to foresee if he’s about to burst into tears or into a fit of rage. But nothing happens, the song ends, the action stops. He’s still there, on the empty stage, in the empty room, and you can’t help but keep thinking of his words, his voice, his hopelessness.

“And I’ve sat here thinking, I hate my god damn life/ I used to be the number one entertainer, now I’m bumpkin with a knife/ I’ll never get my show back.” he sings, in one of his tracks, titled “The Comeback.” Oddly enough, despite what you might think, “The Comeback” isn’t the opening song on Cameron’s debut album: the first place in a LP titled “Jumping the Shark” is, indeed, for a song named “Happy Ending.” It’s as if we are taken backwards in the life and the career of this unfathomable music business man from a timeless place. Not even technology is useful to trace his (non-)fictional, feeble professional world: “I’ve got, everything I need/ It’s a strong connection, that’s high-speed/ Got two modems, and a fax machine/ I got receptionists, they keep my office clean/ I’ve got, a master plan/ I’m my own boss, I’m the man/ I got business cards, you can find me;” His speech is deep, phrases are murmured.

As in David Lynch’s movies, it’s sometimes hard to understand when and where real life gives way to nightmares, or, if we’ll ever wake from this upsetting daydream. His narrative is evil and repulsive, yet we can’t help but listen carefully to the stories he sings, fascinated by this corruption and determined to save his poor, self-destructive soul, always concerned to find out that its us he’s talking about. The electronic arrangement, made of straight synths and guitars, remind of the new-wave, post-punk era – vintage or out-of-date, it’s difficult to tell. But the result is an album that sticks in the listener’s mind, persistent in the thoughts, coming back when least expected; impossible to give up on, just like a crushing addiction. (GC)

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Mothers – When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired

Wichita (Buy)

In a year of tortured and emotionally exhausting albums from some music’s most notable acts, a band hailing from Athens, Georgia might have delivered the prettiest of them all. Mothers is an exercise in the slow-burn – a mix of folk instruments (sounding simple yet nuanced), haunting melodies, and an unmistakable heart-ache that drips off of Kristine Leschper’s every word. ‘When You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired’ is a poetic album, Leschper’s vulnerable thoughts are transmitted in high, haunted cries and hushed, trembling platitudes. On the opener “Too Small For Eyes,” she sings: “I hate my body, I love your taste/Bird stirring in my chest, you give and take away.” It’s a revealing line in many ways – it invites the listener to imagine a woman with no self-love or confidence, a woman that buries her lover in “compromise.”

The album is an uphill struggle, slowly unfolding like a lotus flower about to bloom. The album’s centrepiece, “Nesting Behavior” is scored by a sweeping fiddle and weeping cello as Leschper yodels in a mournful tenor. The song shifts halfway through and signals a change in the album overall: “you say you need me now/
shut your dirty mouth.” She’s done burying her own desires for another person, the back-half of the album is an exorcism of the doubt that chains you to loveless lovers; it’s about loving yourself. (JG)

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Half Waif – Probable Depths

Digital/DZ Tapes (Buy)

I’m being followed by a shadow. My stomach is full and yet I haven’t eaten in days. My slumber is disturbed by a glow-in-the-dark clock face; I am convinced it is a ghost, eager to pluck the unforgiving utterances from my mind and conveying them in a whisper to the ones I love the most. Some day, they’ll find out I’m a fraud.

I think I’m a bit sick of holding on.

Nandi Rose Plunkett finds beauty in empty space. Battling with the inner-workings of identity and what it means to be alive, Half Waif is an escape into the void. Whilst her lyricism is distinctively enchanting, it’s her gorgeous, thoughtful melodies and layered instrumentation that feels like time is standing still.

The breaks between notes are as meaningful as each utterance of instrument, acting as an pleading inhalation. Layers are added as she unravels each tale, throwing spectacular colour and warmth towards a hopeful conclusion. ‘Probable Depths’ thrusts neon surges into a brutal landscape, shattering nerves in its wake. (SM)

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Katie Dey – Flood Network

Joy Void (Buy)

Ever since Katie Dey’s debut EP ‘asdfasdf’ materialised from nowhere (as if from the bubbling matmos of the very internet) music just hasn’t been the same. Virtually impenetrable to a casual listener, her album ’Flood Network’ requires, no it deserves, an investment of hours and heart, with enjoyment improving exponentially after several rotations. It’s like staring into a magic eye picture – there will be some who don’t get it and walk away, there’ll be others who pretend to see, “yeah, it’s a unicorn”, but only those who filter out everything they think they know already, who are prepared to just sit with it a while will be rewarded in the end. And, like the trompe-l’oeil image, the moment you rationalise, or try to see the picture conventionally, it vanishes. Because it was never there. There are moments like this on ‘Flood Network’ – delicate tonal forms that emerge and evaporate, melting away into the embracing haze as if they never existed.

There are times when nothing makes sense, but the music carries its own sense of purpose and identity separate to its neighbouring tracks. Brief, asynchronous instrumentals are interspersed between each of the title tracks, like cast shadows. These are the more solid, yet still fragile constructs over which Dey delicately drapes her vocal contortions – such is the waif-like lightness of her voice it only bends or breaks the frame on which it rests when she wills it. She gives the listener plenty of familiar entry points into her domain, some, like “Fear O’ The Light” are clear windows and others are doors locked on the outside – it’s for us to find the key. (TE)

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Bueno – Illuminate

Exploding In Sound/Babe City Records (Buy)

When I spoke about not feeling as though I’m a man in my brain for a long time that meant that I just needed to “grow up” and one day I’d embody those things other people wanted from me. I’m just trying to be myself, whatever that means. Most people would probably agree that’s never as simple as it sounds.” Shared during a sprawling interview with Bueno on these pages, around the release of their brilliant “Illuminate” LP, the above words add a context and personality to the aforementioned record that isn’t obvious from the outset. As with many records of this ilk, it’s easy to hear Bueno’s languid vocals and sizzling guitar breakdowns and simply assume a feeling of sunny dispositions. Such pleasantries are simply not the case here, however, and the record takes on far greater weight when you really start to delve in to the sentiments behind it.

A shared release between to mainstays of the emo/rock/indie scene, Exploding In Sound and Babe City, “Illuminate” does well by its title, being a record that always seem to be striving for the light. Rounded-off by a beautiful, Springsteen-esque display of saxophone, this is a record that reveals a little more each and every time you spend a little time with it. Do so, and you’ll discover something eminently smart; a slacker-pop gem on the surface, with a whole lot of soul-searching buried underneath. (TJ)

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Flashlights – No love

Self-released (Buy)

Punk rock feels cathartic in the wake of the shocking election resuls. The United States, and the world, has to pick up the pieces. Even in these darker days, coping gets a little easier with well-written punk tunes. That’s exactly what Florida’s Flashlights deliver on their newest album, ‘No Love’. It’s a fragmented, powerful, and lightweight slice of punk rock not afraid to flex its pop-leading chops.

Terry Caudill shouts over distorted high-end guitars and snuffed percussion as the dueling guitars cascade and coil around his pleading: “One more time, tell me where I went wrong. Sugarcoat it all, when you’re fooling no one.” It’s a song about letting off what’s on your chest and knowing if you don’t it might cave-in and crush you entirely. Yet, you struggle because your problems might feel minute in comparison, perhaps you feel dumb for even having them. It’s easy to want to surrender. You’re defeated, you shrink into yourself. You quit. Flashlights as a band are obsessed with this feeling, and they capitalize on the headspace that inhabits a person going through it. They also push against this defeat on “Feel,” a shimmering testament to friendship’s ups and downs. “Grow up. Everyone has a problem,” Caudill plainly states. Then, of course, the cycle begins yet again. “Useless” follows with a distorted bass line and a lethargic drum beat. It builds to the conclusion that the narrator is at his best when he feels useless. Shame’s a powerful drug.

That’s why “Dumb” is such a breath of fresh air. It breaks the cycle of guilt, shame, and self-pity with an acoustic guitar and xylophone and walking bass lines. “You seriously blocked me from posting on your page?” a voice asks as bubbling noises and dogs howl next to an abrasive kazoo. It sounds like a mess when you write it all down, but it’s a stand-out moment where you can just feel the band’s happiness radiate through your headphones. That’s just what we need in these trying times. (JG)

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Kero Kero Bonito – Bonito Generation

Double Denim (ListenBuy)

Kero Kero Bonito create compact, bubblegum pop that this world desperately needs. It’s medicine for the soul and a blinding disco ball in the face of people who are too cool to care. Creating the same kind of feeling when your Year 6 crush finally asks you to dance at the school disco, ‘Bonito Generation’ is an elating collapse of dizzying optimism that is hard to shake once it takes you in its arms.

Whilst unapologetically silly at times – see “Graduation” or “Waking Up” – KKB make pop that challenges the usual stereotypes. Samples and synths take the lead through a narrative that can make the mundane seem special and interesting. Animal sounds and spoken word are included in a record that knows when to push and when to pull, teasing us with just the right amount of this or that.

Most notably though, ‘Bonito Generation’ is all about trying to make your way in the world when everything feels hopeless. Sombre metaphors are used in a relatable way that makes KKB seem like the pals you’ve always needed. Battling with impending adulthood is tackled on ‘Fish Bowl’ – “But when you find the ocean, how will you know where to go?” – whilst reaching for your dreams and helping others is encouraged on the gorgeously uplifting “Trampoline”.

“Even if you’re falling, that’s okay, there’s a trampoline waiting for you,” vocalist Sarah Midori Perry insists. “It’s so easy, you just have to believe.” KKB are here to make sure you don’t forget to bounce, giving us something to believe in again. (SM)

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Magic Potion – Pink Gum

PNKSLM/Beech Coma (Buy)

We only need to hear the opening, warped guitar lines of “Deep Web” to find ourselves lifted out of our chairs and taken to somewhere far more glamorous and unhurried. Given that we first covered the track back in February of 2015, it’s no mean feat that it still retains such a sense of glowing magic and it remains a key component of Magic Potion’s debut album, which followed this year via Stockholm’s ever-engaging PNKSLM label.

Handily, for both us and them, such pleasantries weren’t only savoured for that track, and across this record the band deliver a multitude of utterly delightful guitar-pop songs that hang in the air like the summer’s most fascinating breeze. Led by the delightfully soft croon of a voice, the Stockholm-based quartet make good on their early promise, delivering a collection of songs that simmer, glow, and grab in all the right places. “Golden Power” is exactly that, a spirited message delivered with all the languidness we’ve come to expect, while “Jelly” rivals “Deep Web” for their most endearing moment, drifting effortlessly and captivatingly through dreamy guitar lines and a sumptuous atmosphere that will slow your day down to a crawl, no matter what situation you find yourself in. (TJ)

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Max Gardener – Memory Lounge

Citrus City Records/Sports Day Records (Buy)

If the Black Mirror episode, San Junipero, didn’t already have a perfect soundtrack then Max Gardener’s ‘Memory Lounge’ could have been the perfect placeholder. “I just want to stay here forever,” the warped vocal sample says somewhere within the skewed intro, and that one line proves to be a pretty well-rounded summation for a record that positively burns with a sense of removed nostalgia. Like the characters in the aforementioned episode, ‘Memory Lounge’ never feels defined by on time or place, rather it acts as a wide-ranging space to be explored, where certain rules of the real world don’t need to be followed, where the realness of the world feels just beyond the surface, just close enough to remind us that this could all be over soon.

Gardener peppers the lyrics with notions of such interpersonal exploration, and fills the rest of the space with beautiful waves of guitar, and dreamy synth lines, that hum like a city quietly growing to life in the stifling heat of the summer. “Get Lost” is an aspiration call-to-arms for those trapped within the confines of modernity (“Learn about yourself, look around and go into your mind’s devoted wealth. Oh go out and get lost.”), while the bummed-out balladry of “Underdog” offers something altogether more refined before diving in to a beautifully cinematic finale that underlines the shaded sense of imagination running throughout Gardener’s work. (TJ)

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Vanessa Anne Redd – “Behind the Wall”

Sharp Attack Records (Buy)

The best way for a singer/songwriter to win me over is with a great piano ballad. I mean one of those tracks with a real, sustained grand piano resonating wide and ethereal throughout the song with its warm and well-rounded sound. It doesn’t matter if there’s only a voice or a huge orchestra to accompany it, its unique timbre immediately hits my ears and heart, gaining my full attention. But by time I first got to “Road That Drives Us,” ‘Behind the Wall’s’ great piano ballad, Vanessa Anne Redd’s debut album as a solo artist had already – and quite easily – conquered a place among my list of 2016’s best releases.

With an electronic oriented career as a producer with bands like Rubicks and Six Years behind her, the London-based musician turned to analog instruments and equipment for her “simple grunge-folk affair,” crafting ten tracks exploring all the different shades and possibilities of contemporary folk with a perfect balance of textures and arrangements. “Borderland,” with its vigorous acoustic guitar progression and harmonica, touches country and blues sonorities, while “Escape” and the title track “Behind the Wall” are built around dirty electric guitars, the first drawing from the Velvet Underground, the latter mixing its alt-rock vibes with a powerful string session in a dramatic crescendo. Redd’s voice is put in foreground in the closing “Proof,” uphold by brasses creating yet another climax. There’s an amazing naturalness in VAR’s songwriting, a genuine talent in forging sophisticated tunes that are never out of line or trying too hard. (GC)

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Hotel Bibles – boy

Self-released (Buy)

Amongst the chaotic debris that this year has left us with it feels more pertinent than ever to hold the fragile, broken beauty of Hotel Bibles’ ‘Boy’ close to heart. In the delicate murmurs, gentle melodies and sorrowfully soft vocals there is a kind of reassurance in the way this album reminds us that human existence can be difficult and isolating but that we are not alone in feeling this. As the person behind the Hotel Bibles moniker, who we only know to be a certain Noah, delivers their starkly honest lyrics it feels as if these bedroom recordings come from some distant, timeless space. The raw, grainy quality to the tracks undoubtedly augments this impression, but it is particularly in the quite universally relatable musings, such as “feeling so little compared to everything” surely something most of us have experienced at some point during the past months, that this album will likely always provide some form of solace.

Each moment of ‘Boy’, which followed on from the equally wistful ‘1926’ EP that surfaced in March, is imbued with a melancholy poeticism that narrates fragments of sadness and glimmers of pure beauty. From the lonely whistle that opens ‘I wish the voice in my head didn’t give me headaches’ to the utterly heart-breaking lyrics of closing track ‘bill viola (come back I miss you already)’ the emotive fragility that Hotel Bibles openly bears to us throughout this collection of tracks offers a strangely comforting sanctuary in which to hide away from the world when you need it. (KC)

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iji – Bubble

Team Love Records (Listen / Buy)

Seattle’s iji has been kicking around for over a decade at this point. Its lone constant member, songwriter Zach Burba, started the band while he was in high school and its lineup has shifted several times since then. With Bubble, Burba tried something different: he let go. His band graduated from supporting cast to main players. Burba brought rough sketches of songs to them and then the tracks were co-written by everyone and cut in mostly live takes over five days.

Bubble is loopy, fun, and most of all free. It’s psychedelic, but never self-indulgent. Imagine Ariel Pink but fronted and reinterpreted by Destroyer and you’ll get an idea of what this gem sounds like. Despite the comparison, the songs that inhabit this release are unquestionably the unique product of a united iji at the top of their powers. Burba and the band have a fluid playing style that seems indebted as much to prog rock as it does to late ’60s psychedelia. Songs float in and out of styles and tempos giving the listener the sense of following the group along on a journey.

A testament to their skills as a unit is the fact that these songs feel both well rehearsed and improvised. I haven’t seen iji live but it doesn’t feel like going out on a limb to say they must put on a helluva good show. At the very least, they put together a helluva good album. (AW)

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Trust Fund – We Have Always Lived In the Harolds

Self-released/It Takes Time Records (Buy)

With their previous releases Trust Fund, aka Ellis Jones and various pals, have firmly established a great reputation for crafting the catchiest of sad bedroom-pop songs. The kind of tracks that you want to dance frantically around the room to whilst simultaneously crying because Jones’ songwriting resonates deeply as he earnestly narrates the constant fluctuation of ups and downs that is everyday life. ‘We have always lived in The Harolds’ maintains this characteristically visceral candour just with less of the clattering, full-band sounds and more wavy synth effects. There’s a poignantly raw, imperfect beauty at the core of this self-released album that epitomises exactly what it is that makes Trust Fund so emotively compelling.

This is Trust Fund at their weird and wonderful best with Jones’ distinctive vocals coming to the fore, track titles that read like cryptic clues, and majestic little melodies weaving their way throughout. There aren’t many artists who can juxtapose rather bleak lyrics like “all we want is to not exist” with the chirpiest, upbeat harmonies and actually make it work as well as Jones does. In the all too ephemeral burst of sadness and splendour that is ‘We have always lived in The Harolds’ Trust Fund offer a refreshingly authentic and chaotic collection of songs that you will want to listen to over and over again if you haven’t already. (KC)

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Mannequin Pussy – Romantic

Tiny Engines (Listen / Buy)

There’s a short little fan-review down the side of Mannequin Pussy’s phenomenal new record on their Bandcamp page which simply says: “Just brutal in a really endearing way.” Which kind of makes whatever else we right here obsolete, as it so perfectly encapsulates what the Philadelphia punk rock superstars do so crushingly well across the album’s eleven tracks.

Brutal? Absolutely. From the get-go, ‘Romantic’ is a frazzled mass of flailing percussion, relentless guitars, and Marisa Dabice’s thrilling vocal burn-outs that lead from the front and never once shirk from their duties. And endearing? Not to everyone, sure, but this is a record that so jubilantly wears its heart on its sleeve, that there will be a hefty line of people waiting to throw themselves in to its powerful arms.

Its eleven tracks and, more significantly, just seventeen-minutes running time offer a whirlwind adventure through the band’s restless world but its more than enough time to be completely blown away. Opening track “Kiss” instantly sets the tone, a frenetic black-hole that instantly sucks you inside; “Denial” is Dabice at her most skittish, just about holding itself together, while “Hey, Steven” is mesmeric in the power it possesses; a fleeting snap-shot of a band at the very top of their game; wild, untamed, and utterly magnificent. (TJ)

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Crying – Beyond The Fleeting Gales

Run For Cover (Buy)

If, while rounding up this collection of albums, we’re also talking about singular musical moments in 2016, then a special place has to be reserved for Crying’s “Wool In The Wash”. Comfortably one of the most inspired guitar-pop tracks of the year, with its glorious construction and delivery still as grin-inducing now as it was upon arrive, it was also the moment that demanded the wider world sit-up and take notice. Quite how the band would follow-up the chiptune influenced melodrama of their previous EPs was anyone’s guess, but ‘Wool In The Wash’ instantly blew that, and and all associated thoughts. out of the water. Crying were going for it.

Running wildly through the glowing landscape that is ‘Beyond The Fleeting Gales’, the trio grabbed their guitars tightly and let loose; the contagious energy they always possessed shaped in to a collection of songs that felt, and feels, resoundingly emphatic; a wild pop-punk hybrid that, in its most clean-cut moments, offers something so rapturously enthusiastic there won’t be a single nerve on your body that isn’t leaping with joy throughout. A very, very special record. (TJ)

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Okkervil River – Away

ATO Records (Buy)

2016 was the year that I suddenly felt much older than I often assume myself to be; where the cracks started to appear and show with much more clarity, where the weight of life disappearing before my eyes felt more cumbersome than ever before. Thankfully, such fears found a soundtrack in the beautiful new album from Okkervil River, and one that stands as Will Sheff’s best collection of songs for at least a decade or, perhaps, ever.

Happening almost by accident, after Sheff had taken himself away from the humdrum of daily life, to reflect both on the changing shape of his band, as well as the passing of his Grandfather, ‘Away’ feels markedly significant from the outset; clutching at memories from his own life, while shaping his worries and consternations about death and ageing, and the living we all have to do in-between, in to a narrative that flips between both something embracing and complex, with unbridled will. Rousing, delicate, beautiful, and haunted, ‘Away’ carries all the drama that we’ve come to know and love throughout Okkervil River’s lifetime and adorns it with a striking sense of humanity; like pumping warm blood into limbs we were just thinking might well hang cold for the rest of our days. It turns out, however, that there’s life in them yet.

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Pikelet – Tronc

Chapter Music (Buy)

Music is often held up as something which has the power to surpass the differences between people. But, it too has the potential for intolerance and unkindness, something that Evelyn Morris aka Pikelet has experienced, like many other female artists in and around her home town of Melbourne. After some ten years in the music business, she was still hearing the same male-oriented, tired, exclusionary conversations around music and so she posted her thoughts online. The reaction to this piece was incredible. Now Morris is leading a different conversation as founder of charity “LISTEN”, to promote understanding and equality for those left on the margins of a patriarchal music industry.

Although her third album, ’Tronc’ is the first recorded entirely at home. The freedom and space of playing all the parts and instruments led to an uninterrupted flurry of creativity, channeling Morris’ thoughts and feelings into a visceral and intellectual soup of acoustic and electronic experimentation. The album is more than just a product of that long period of emotional transformation and finding strength in feminism. It is incredibly inspirational and, as it requires some healthy self-examination and reflection on the listeners part, it’s also liberating: “The harder the heart is, the less likely we’ll be to see through this / we are open like water, words like rocks fall straight through the surface / they rest on our riverbed heart, lungs and stomach bear the brunt of it”. Sometimes, it’s not just about the music. (TE)

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Emma Ruth Rundle – Marked For Death

Sargent House (ListenBuy)

I have a distinct memory of visiting a ‘haunted house’ at the local fairground when I was younger, only to find myself completely dismayed when finding out that it was nothing more than some glow-in-the-dark tomfoolery and a guy in a gorilla costume who jumped on your carriage at the end of the ride (Why a gorilla? Tell me about it). Emma Ruth Rundle’s ‘Marked For Death’ is not that. This is a record that decisively indicates what’s to be found within then duly delivers with a thundering, fearsome bout of heavyweight indie rock. Marked for death? You better damn well believe it.

Something like Cat Power battling her way through the heaviest of thunderstorms, the new record is a marked stride forward in to the abyss from her 2014 ‘Some Heavy Ocean’ LP, the eight tracks on ‘Marked For Death’ positively burn with intensity, even before you dig in to the wildly striking set of lyrics that accompany these dramatic compositions. Indicative of the soaring, stifling nature of the record as a whole, the opening, and title, track stands as one of the year’s most ominous tracks; “Who else is going to love someone like you that’s marked for death?” Rundle bellows with all the fiery ferocity of someone who sees the world a little differently to most. A monumental effort not for the weary-hearted; but a monumental effort all the same.

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Warehouse – Super Low

Bayonet Records (Buy)

“IF SOMETHING COMES FROM NOTHING DOESN’T MAKE IT NOTHINGGG!”

If this were the Grammys of the blog world, and we were giving out awards for the greatest vocal performance of 2016, then there wouldn’t even be the need for nominees because Elaine Edenfield would already be dancing off down the aisle, arms raised to the sky, gut-thumping bellow at the ready. The lead voice in Warehouse’s suitably dynamic indie-rock beast of a record, Super Low, Edenfield’s turn here is a miraculous effort, simmering above the rock-solid back-drop of twin guitars and percussion, and armed with the ability to breathe fire in the blink of a scorched eye. Couple that with the band’s ability to pen righteous hooks that add even greater weight to such aesthetics (see the above line for one of the year’s most memorable refrains) and the result is one of the boldest records in the American indie-rock frame.

Primal, precious, and consistently invigorating, Warehouse are the kind of band that to hear them once is to pin all your hopes and dreams upon them; a rabid and rousing unraveling. As we said in our initial review: ‘Super Low’ was “largely written in a notorious punk house that was torn down to build a parking garage” and the record comes wrapped in such new-world vexations, melding punk aesthetics with something endearingly humane. Throw your arms around it.

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Ian William Craig – Centres

130701 (Buy)

On ‘Centres’, his utterly compelling 9th album, Ian William Craig plays with, and manipulates, the unpredictable nature of sound. Synthesizer, guitar, accordion and tape loop samples are skilfully ripped apart and reassembled through re-purposed vintage reel-to-reels and an 18 deck “cassette choir”. Craig employs a process of circuit-bending and re-sampling hacks to achieve a complete transformation of the source sounds.

Where ‘Centres’ shines, however, is in the addition of his vocal, the most soulful of voices, operatic in form but executed with the utmost modesty and lack of grandiosity. Listening to work of this complexity and gravity can sometimes be exhausting, but here Craig pulls off the improbable combination of extreme avant-garde and wholly listenable, by grafting a beautiful human heart into the album’s abstract, alien fabric. Adjectives like ‘transcendent’, ‘meditative’ and ‘immersive’ really don’t do its effect justice. Ultimately, we relate to its vulnerability, its gripping potency and impermanence and, because it represents something we’ve maybe forgotten, we get drawn deeper and deeper into its transient core until we too are completely and happily lost. (TE)

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See you next year…

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