Nada Surf, You Know Who You Are & Peaceful Ghosts: 2016 was a banner year for fans of Nada Surf—not only did we see the release of You Know Who You Are (great record;very much classic Nada Surf) but we also got a new live record (Peaceful Ghosts) where a handful of Nada classics are performed with a full symphony—and the result is an impeccably recorded, truly inspiring live record. (Chris)
Weezer, White Album: This is the best gift of the year. Weezer’s best effort since Pinkerton. In a way I feel like it’s the record that could’ve been released after the Blue Album. Great, great, great songs. This is Weezer at its best. (Andy)
Bill Shaouy, The Other Town: Sounding like an Andy Partridge/Colin Moulding pairing, packed to the gills with great songs. Check out “Candy In Line” or “Bunting Bird” and you’ll be immediately sold. (Keith)
Lemon Twigs, Do Hollywood: This record really took me by surprise; these NY brothers created a perfect little pop record of super Nilsson-inspired mini masterpieces. Initially their nutty middle eight/bridges and rhythm fluctuations kind of bugged me but now I’ve grown to adore and expect them… and ultimately want more. (Chris)
Gretchen’s Wheel, Behind The Curtain: Lindsay Murray is a big talent waiting to be discovered. This record is full of great tunes treated with just the right brush strokes. Look for LM to raise the bar even higher on her next. (Keith)
M. Ward, No Rain: M. Ward continues to write and record songs that keep me interested. He’s not doing anything outside his norm but that’s completely OK with me. His recordings are always warm and fuzzy. (Andy)
John Paul White, Beulah: I was not a fan of the Civil Wars but this stripped-down batch of songs hits the spot. There are some sweet chord changes and his voice is a perfect fit for these darker tunes. This is a cool record that really took me by surprise. (Andy)
Nick Piunti, Trust Your Instincts: The third record in as many years, this one might just be the best of three classics. Nick’s best batch of songs and a perfect band to carry them home. (Keith)
TUNS, TUNS: So you tell me you have a band that contains Chris Murphy of Sloan, Matt Murphy of Super Friendz and Flashing Lights, and Mike O’Neill of the Inbreds—easy—where should you run off to buy it? Only problem is that it’s WAY too short. (Chris)
Mike Adams At His Honest Weight, Casino Drone: I’m a late comer to the pop musings of Mike Adams but glad to have Mike in my life. Just take in the track “Diem Be,” and you’ll be singing the appropriate praises in no time. (Chris)
The Legal Matters are: Keith Klingensmith, Andy Reed, and Chris Richards. We reviewed their album Conrad on October 28, 2016.
In really hard times, music is the only thing that gives me any kind of real comfort. I don’t know why I bring this up now, since 2016 was an unending laugh riot…
Anyway, here’s some music that mattered to me in 2016. There’s no real ranking here, and I’m sure I’m forgetting or neglecting a million things I discovered and adored. But for here, for now, a rundown of some things I loved this year.
Fairy Bones, 8 Ball and Pink Plastic Cups: In 2015 Fairy Bones had one of my top albums of the year with Dramabot, produced by the always-dapper Bob Hoag. We didn’t get a new album in 2016 but these two singles are top-notch (and landed on a variety of savvy year-end best-of lists). Chelsey Louise is among the very best rock vocalists out there, and this tight-knit band is totally irresistible, so don’t bother resisting, just get this. New album coming in 2017; don’t miss it.
The Armoires, Incidental Lightshow: Yeah, I loved this record so much that I put it out on my own label Black Market Glamour. There’s a sonic dynamic/vocal interplay here somewhere between John Doe and Exene & Gram and Emmylou, with swirling sounds and moving stories that will cast an immediate spell. Deeply emotional, with deft lyrical sleight of hand, this is a record that rewards intimate, repeated listenings. Expect to fall in love. New record coming in the new year!
Carol Pacey and the Honey Shakers, Eyes On The Prize: the eminent music writer Mitchell Hillman once described Carol Pacey’s sound as a pioneering Americana thrash-pop and it’s an apt description; it’s Americana only in the sense that the Violent Femmes’ “Kiss Off” is Americana. On this, their second full-length outing, Carol and the Honey Shakers explore darker, moodier space, then kick out the jams at a speed and intensity few bands can touch. The push-pull between Carol’s amazing voice and the searing, soaring guitar work of Andy Borunda is something to behold.
Loveland Duren, Next: Memphis legends, national treasures—there aren’t enough superlatives you can throw at Vicki Loveland and Van Duren to really do ‘em justice. We’re talking about voices and songwriting of the very highest order here. Their first album together, 2013’s Bloody Cupid, was stunning, soulful, lush; Next pares it down to a raw, urgent sound, putting both the songs and Van and Vicki’s singular, beautiful, deeply affecting voices right up front. From its heartbreaking tribute to Johns Fry and Hampton to its gorgeous, intricate guitar work, this one is a must-have.
The Monkees, Good Times: Aptly named, this thing; who knew that after 50 years, the Monkees would not only still be a band, not only still making records, but that the record would be a lot of fun and great music besides? But how could you go wrong, really, with songwriting contributions from Paul Weller, Ben Gibbard, Adam Schlesinger (who also produced), Noel Gallagher, Andy Partridge and Rivers Cuomo, as well as longtime Monkees cohorts like Neil Diamond, Boyce & Hart, Goffin & King and the mighty Harry Nilsson—as well as cheery beyond-the-veil vocal contributions from the departed-but-not-gone Davy Jones and Nilsson himself. It’s a fresh and fun record and one of their very best.
Emitt Rhodes, Rainbow Ends: Despite the incessant prattling of its tiresome, sleazy, two-faced apologists, the major-label music industry always seems to take a special joy in destroying true artists. Said industry did a real number on Rhodes back in the 1970s, robbing him of both his life’s work and the will to create. It took 40-something years, a Herculean effort from producer Chris Price, and an all-star squad of musician-fans including Price, Taylor Locke, Jon Brion, Fernando Perdomo, Jason Falkner, Roger Manning, and Aimee Mann to bring Rhodes out of self-imposed exile. He’s not the fresh-faced kid anymore—both his voice and his songs reflect the journey his life has taken—but it’s all the more moving as a result: this is the real thing, real art and real heart and soul, something no corporate goons can synthesize—or silence.
The Legal Matters, Conrad: If you don’t know Detroit popsters the Legal Matters, set yourself straight with this outstanding collection of classic power pop sounds—tight songs, gorgeous harmonies, crunchy guitars, and a sense of joy you’ll be hard pressed to find anywhere else.
Fernando Perdomo, Voyeurs: I’ve met this guy once or twice, and I can tell you that he is an outstanding instrumentalist and a songwriter of great depth and versatility; there’s no genre, no style that is out of his range, and on Voyeurs he took to Facebook live and created/recorded the songs in front of an audience (something I myself have done, now and again). The result is tuneful, inventive, surprising, beautiful, heartbreaking. With gorgeous, poetic songs like “Feels,” “The One You Run To,” “Stay With The Friends,” and “Holding Back I Love Yous,” you’ll probably find yourself wishing he’d written one of these about you.
Sam Means, Ten Songs: Sam was half of the wonderful pop band The Format (Nate Ruess, now in fun., was the other), and while Nate has gotten most of the post-Format attention, Sam’s tuneful and thoughtful songs here are a reminder of his extraordinary gifts as a performer and songwriter. It’s a dynamite record and one you should own.
Ken Sharp, New Mourning: Ken’s talents as a music journalist are legendary; many, many more people need to hear his equally amazing songs, which are hauntingly beautiful, intricate, sometimes delicate, but with a power and punch all their own. With gorgeous vocals and flawless musicianship, guests like the Knack’s Prescott Niles and the great Rick Springfield, and production/instrumentation by Fernando Perdomo (this year’s hardest working man in show business by far), this introspective and hook-laden set of gems is not to be missed.
Beat Angels, Holy Mother Of Christ! It’s The Best Of The Beat Angels: You almost certainly have never heard of the Beat Angels, and that is your loss; a blast of undeniable sonic hooks, sex-on-wheels swagger and merciless, literary lyrics, the Beat Angels were one of the greatest bands of the 1990s and ‘00s; picking up roughly where the late, lamented band Gentlemen Afterdark left off, the Beat Angels built on and vastly expanded that band’s singular sound—and maintained their 100% consistent dubious luck, as well. Onus Records has compiled a selection of their best material from three studio albums (one, sadly, never released). Mostly produced by Gilby Clark, it’s a wonderful overview, but a full reissue and reassessment is urgently needed. In the meanwhile, start here.
Gentlemen Afterdark, Gentlemen Afterdark EP and Open The Door EP (iTunes): Glam, New Romantic, Postpunk, New Wave, and beyond: the Gentlemen did it all and did it better than anybody else. After years of being out of print, some of their best songs—and some never before commercially released—are now available via iTunes. A physical release and proper retrospective would be ideal, but for now? At least you can finally hear these absolute ear-candy songs.
Omnivore Recordings is pretty much the undisputed label of the year, having released the Emmit Rhodes album, the Legal Matters, and an absolutely staggering series of reissues, including Game Theory, The Muffs, the Bangles, NRBQ and the undisputed champeen, Big Star’s Complete Third, among dozens of other absolutely essential releases all year. I could write an essay on each of these, but then I would die of exhaustion and people would be sad. Go to your record emporium, look at the records, if you see the Omnivore label on anything, purchase it at once. Your ears will thank you.
By Julie Finley
This year was unbearable in so many ways it is hard to even compute mentally. Too much LOSS! I am not going to go off on a tangent about what was bad; if you lived through this year, you know how bad it was!
Despite so many mishaps, there were actually some things I enjoyed this year. I decided to divide these up by cultural experiences, music releases, TV shows, and movies.
2016 was full of personal and professional triumphs and external troubles. Here is my bloated 2016 cultural year-in-review list.
David Bowie, Blackstar (Columbia)
Anna Meredith, Varmints (Moshi Moshi)
Bent Knee, Say So (Cuneiform)
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, Ears (Western Vinyl)
Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, Stranger Things Soundtrack (Lakeshore Records)
Chromb, 1000 (InOuie)
PJ Harvey, The Hope Six Demolition Project (Vagrant)
Swans, The Glowing Man (Young God)
Bon Iver; 22, a million (Jagjaguwar)
Ian William Craig, Centres (FatCat)
Ital Tek, Hollowed (Planet MU)
Maxwell Sterling, Hollywood Medieval (Memory Number 36 recordings)
Jaga Jazzist, Starfire (Ninja Tune)
Elysian Fields, Ghost Of No (Ojet)
Klara Lewis, Too (Editions Mego)
Gnarwhallaby, exhibit A (Populist Records)
Peder Mannerfelt, Controlling Body (Peder Mannerfelt Produktion)
John Zorn, Madrigals / Painted Bird / Commedia Dell’Arte / Sacred Visions (Tzadik)
Vicky Chow, AORTA (New Amsterdam)
Cloud Becomes Your Hand, Rest In Fleas (Northern Spy)
Zwoyld, 200 000 (Bandcamp)
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard, Nonagon Infinity (ATO)
Tristan Perich, Noise Patterns (Physical Editions)
Alessandro Cortini, Risveglio (Hospital)
Nicotina es Primavera, Animal Cerámico (Bandcamp)
I went to dozens of concerts and events in 2016. Here are some of the most notable. All in NYC except where noted.
Jan 8 and Jan 19: Holy Holy at The Highline
Mar 10: Messiaen’s Turangalîla-symphonie at Lincoln Center,
Mar 19: Matmos at National Sawdust
April 1: Magma at Le Poisson Rouge
May 10: Diamanda Galas at the former St. Thomas the Apostle church in Harlem
June 13: Anthony Pateras and Erkki Veltheim for The Inland Concert Series at Church of All Nations in Carlton, Melbourne
July 28: Jaga Jazzist at Le Poisson Rouge
Aug 10: Senyawa at a loft on Bowery for Blank Forms
Aug 14: Kris Davis Quartet play John Zorn’s Bagatelles at the Village Vanguard
Aug 16: PJ Harvey at Terminal 5
Sep 10: Wet Ink present a multi-channel concert at St Peter’s Church in Chelsea
Sep 14: Suzanne Ciani at Roulette
Sep 18: ELO at Radio City Music Hall
Sep 27: Morton Subotnik at Issue Project Room
Oct 8: Glenn Branca at Roulette
Oct 22/ 23: John Zorn at National Sawdust / The Guggenheim
Oct 29: Ghédalia Tazartès at First Unitarian Church, Brooklyn
Nov 3: Mivos Quartet and others play Patrick Higgins at Pioneer Works
Nov 11: Aurélien Bory’s Plexus at BAM’s Harvey Theater.
Dec 4: Ashley Bathgate at Dither Festival, 17 Frost Theater
Dec 11: Vicky Chow at National Sawdust
and Tredici Bacci, everywhere
The Neon Demon
I also keep a Tumblr blog where I talk about events I check out and other cultural obsessions.
Find out more on JG Thirlwell on foetus.org.
We reviewed JG Thirlwell’s Venture Bros. Original Score Volume Two on July 21.
The year began with the death of David Bowie and then just got worse. Prince died in April, and throughout the rest of the year, dozens of other well-loved, talented, influential artists continued to leave this earthly plane. December continued the onslaught of pop culture deaths, with George Michael, Carrie Fisher, Richard Adams (Watership Down), and Debbie Reynolds dying within days of each other.
Still, there was a lot of amazing pop culture in 2016, which definitely helped ease the pain of these sad passings, as well as the foreboding political climate of the US (not to mention countries around the world; too numerous to mention). Here’s hoping 2017 is less traumatic for all of us.
Fuck everything, right? I remarked to a friend, soon after the reality of 2016’s crushing blows to decency started to set in, that I needed to watch some wrestling since that was the only place where things make sense to me. For the most part, good guys and bad guys are pretty clearly laid out, and good usually wins out in the end. Outside of horror films, it’s my favorite way to escape, and boy howdy did 2016 require a shit-ton of escapism. These are the wrestling highlights of the year for me.
By Tyler Hodg
It’s been an inarguably great year to be a Netflix subscriber; the catalogue of lush original content has grown to its highest peak to date and while the service still provides a large amount of stinkers–we shall never talk about Fuller House, Marco Polo, or any of those new Adam Sandler films again—its substantial programs far outweigh its competitors. Below is a list of some standout content that Netflix has delivered over the past year. (more…)
By Tim Murr
Lucio Fulci’s Zombie comic from Eibon Press
Stephen Romano and company have made a huge splash with their first series, an adaptation/on-going series based on the Lucio Fulci classic Zombie, the infamously gory 1979 Italian flick that served as an unofficial sequel to George Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead. The comic features fantastic art in glorious color and comes packed in sturdy slipcases. Only available through the Eibon Press website, this series is a great way to create niche collectible comics. With adaptations of Gates Of Hell and Maniac and the original series Bottomfeeders coming soon, it looks like Eibon Press will be the publisher to beat in 2017. (Read more.)
Dark Palms, Hoxbar Ghost Town
The debut album from the Pacific Northwest band took goth and post-punk and created a highly entertaining, propulsive slab of rock and roll. (Read my full review.)
Phantasm RaVager directed by Don Coscarelli
The fifth and final film in the Phantasm franchise arrived in October and was a worthy farewell to a group of characters who phans have loyally followed since 1979. There has been some knee-jerk negativity directed at the film, but I found that on repeated viewings the movie gets better (but I liked it right away!).
High-Rise directed by Ben Wheatley
Starring Tom Hiddleston, Sienna Miller, Luke Evans, Jeremy Irons, and Elisabeth Moss, High-Rise is a dizzyingly moving adaptation of the JG Ballard novel from 1975. Set in a fictional mixed-use high-rise building, it’s a microcosm of class struggle in an alternate historical 1970s Britain. Brilliantly cast, beautifully shot, and fairly fucked up, High-Rise is one of the few book-to-film adaptations that lives up to its source.
Sherlock Holmes And The Servants Of Hell by Paul Kane
Paul Kane is the world’s leading expert on Hellraiser and powerhouse of a writer. In this book, Kane does a pitch-perfect Conan Doyle as he mixes the world of Sherlock Holmes with the world of Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, pitting the world’s greatest detective (not named Batman) against The Order Of The Gash. It is a very cool book and it’s a lot of fun to see Holmes and Watson going up against Cenobites and… an “old friend.”
As ever, my Best Of list is a list of… things. Stuff that made me happy. When looking back at 2016, it’s hard not to feel a crushing ennui for all of those we lost and a general clusterfuckiness, but there were some gorgeous, delightful bright spots. Mine are, in no order whatsoever:
First and foremost, it has to be said that there are many movies that were released this year that I have not yet had the privilege to see. Several of those have yet to be released in theaters, or haven’t made it to DVD yet, so I’ll save that for another post. That being said, let’s get on with the list. This is also not the easiest list to put in any kind of order, so I’m not going to number them.