If you’re able to read this, congratulations! You’ve made it! It’s 2017, and you are still alive. I don’t really need to elaborate on the losses we’ve seen this year on an artistic front because aside from Trump’s electoral victory, they’ve been social media’s most popular subject throughout the year, and indeed several are featured—repeatedly—below. Many were and continue to be devastated by news of the Oakland Ghost Ship fire, and many others were still struggling to cope with last year’s untimely passing of John Murphy, for whom the tribute compilation All My Sins Remembered was released, which also makes several appearances below. While normally this would be when I try to seek a bright spot in the darkness by talking about the year’s best releases as our friends below see it, the frequency with which we return to this subject between All My Sins Remembered, Bowie‘s Blackstar, and Cohen‘s You Want It Darker means that 2016 was overwhelmingly the darkest year in memory musically.
To those we lost: Rest well, and may this new voyage bring with it all that you sought to find in this life. To those still with us: Their legacy lives on.
People were freaked out through 2016 due to the death of favorite celebrities. Among the passing stars, two released remarkable death ballads written in seeming recognition of their last days… I’m speaking of David Bowie’s Blackstar and Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker…and both of these songs and albums were among their best releases throughout their lives.
The people who first introduced me to these two recording artists are also no longer with us. My first wife, Robin B., who passed a couple years ago, was a huge Bowie fan, and like some of them, Robin believed that aspects of her own life intimately corresponded with Bowie songs. Coincidentally, Robin attended an alternative high school along with punk icon Darby Crash from the band Germs, who was also such a Bowie fanatic and made sure his actual death corresponded with “Five Years” from the Ziggy Stardust album. The Feral House book Lexicon Devil is about Darby Crash, early L.A. punk, and the Germs band.
It was Will Shatter, most famously the bassist and songwriter for the band Flipper, who dealt speed during the early punk years, that unexpectedly got me interested in the work of Leonard Cohen. I wasn’t surprised when Will overdosed in 1987. If only Will was still alive so that we could speak of Cohen’s You Want It Darker…
Throughout 2016 I most listened to the songs of the beautiful and evocative Françoise Hardy, and hope that Feral House can release an English translation of Françoise’s bio or memoir this coming year or two… Now that would be a book I’d personally want to purchase.
1. Black Mountain – IV (Jagjaguwar)
2. Oranssi Pazuzu – Värähtelijä (Svart Records)
3. Dälek – Asphalt for Eden (Profound Lore)
I laughed when I realized my list of 2016 favorites consisted of all male-mama duos. Hail the balance of masculine/feminine forces and what they may create!
1. Wēoh – Untitled (Independent)
This collaboration between Tiffany Holliday and Cavan Wagner is the quintessence of what I am a sucker for musically—darkness of string and intensity of lyric. Throw in some prophesy, Beowulf sung/spoken/whispered in Old English, just-heavy-enough guitar, a finish of simple drum, and you have the magick that is this humble release from Cascadia. Wagner’s voice is at times a marriage between Backworld and Wovenhand, while Holliday’s viola, vielle (proto-violin from the medieval period), and vocalizations make this immediately reminiscent of early Garmarna. The compositions feel ancient, classic, folkish, at times shamanic. They are currently recording for their metal incarnation, Felled.
2. Medicine Moon – Tales of an Umber Earth (Pesanta Urfolk)
Shantel Amundson (Illudium) could be likened to a mega-range PJ Harvey, but I would hate to simplify. Able to convincingly move from Boudiccan battle cry to weeping wail with a sincerity to break your heart, this woman’s voice is a multifaceted gem of the faery sort. Place this in the anomalous setting of Sammy Fielding‘s (Noctooa) cavernous guitar, with his vocal timbre never ceasing to bring me visions of subterranean-dwelling races. Flawless production, although I would have liked the female vocals mixed a bit louder on some harmonies. File under “Otherworld Rock.”
3. Faun Fables – Born of the Sun (Drag City)
Come one, come all, young and old, sit on down by Mama Dawn’s knee! Let her endless tales take you on a journey with the help of Nils Frykdahl, pied piper incarnate. An old-school, strange folk staple, Faun Fables feels free to flit from experimental to sixties funk to country to late-eighties punk to anything in between for the purpose of their web weaving. McCarthy (Matronae) has one of my favorite voices in music and if you ever have the chance to see them live, you will swear Frykdahl‘s (Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, Free Salamander Exhibit) lower half is shaggy with cloven hooves. Enchanting and unselfconscious as always, Faun Fables’s new album is their finest since Mother Twilight.
1. FVNERALS – Wounds (The Native Sound)
2. Human Larvae – Behind Blinding Light (Freak Animal)
3. Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition (Warp)
1. Shirley Collins – Lodestar (Domino)
I work slowly (ten years between major albums), but that pales into insignificance against the thirty-eight years between Lodestar and Shirley’s previous album, For as Many as Will. In a year in which we have lost so many great singers, it is wonderful that we have gained one back.
Actually, considering her venerable age and the nature of the genre, this doesn’t seem like an ‘old person’s’ album. It is brimming with life and—as has been testified by all those lucky enough to see her recent performances—humour, with (as she admitted at her Maida Vale show) the only major changes in her earlier repertoire being dictated by the inevitable deepening of her voice that the years have brought about; thus we have two new takes on pieces from Love, Death and the Lady, songs from her collecting work in the States, and family and local repertoire.
Over the last twenty or so years, I think I have only heard Shirley sing two short snippets, both times at birthday parties in Lewes, so to not only hear complete sets but also a powerful and enthralling new album is more than I had ever hoped for.
Such powerful late-life achievements are few and far between, though curiously we have had two more such examples this year, in the form of Bowie‘s and Cohen‘s last albums, but whereas those were both subsequently revealed to be true last albums, it is my sincere hope that Lodestar isn’t this but might be the first of a late series much as American Recordings was for Cash or Le Danger was for Françoise Hardy. For Lodestar isn’t a Resurrection of someone’s creative work. It is a Renaissance.
2. Various Artists – All My Sins Remembered: The Sonic Worlds of John Murphy (The Epicurean)
I realise that this nomination risks the charge of nepotism, for not only is it a tribute to a friend, but I was also inextricably involved with its production, writing one of the biographical essays, supervising some of the contributions, and recording a piece for it, but bear with me.
Unlike the artists mentioned in the previous choice, John Murphy never left us with a final great statement, he was taken before his time and thus there is no definitive, late Shining Vril or Krang recording, simply the numerous (countless?) appearances, collaborations, and improvisations.
Thus in early discussions about this charity tribute, the bottom line was that we not only wanted to try to put John’s legacy in perspective but also to show that he had been so much more than ‘just a drummer’, and looking at the final release it is obvious how well we succeeded. Admittedly, having close friends from all the periods in his life contributing went a long way towards achieving this; that we had the involvement of groups from Australia, his two sojourns in London, and his final years in Berlin meant that a much rounder portrait of the ‘God-King Emperor’ was possible than had ever previously been thought possible.
That such very different, but each in their own way important bands such as NEWS, the Associates, SPK, Lustmord, and Whitehouse contributed as well as having access to John’s own projects: Shining Vril, Krang, KnifeLadder, Last Dominion Lost, and contributions from his extended musical friends and family meant that this musical polymath’s work could finally be seen in context.
Inevitably, there were a few lacunae; in a couple of cases there were publishing or copyright issues that couldn’t be surmounted in time for publication (so not the bands’ fault), but in a couple of others the people concerned didn’t deign to answer our requests, which I think says more about them than anything else. But fundamentally, nearly everyone of consequence that worked with John over his entire life contributed, and the release is all the stronger for that. For it should be remembered that memorials are as much for the living as for the dead, All My Sins Remembered was our chance to say thank you to John.
3. Necronomidol – Nemesis (Specific Recordings)
This is the joker in the pack. As everyone who knows me can testify, though I own thousands of records, mainly of liturgical chant and (for lighter moments) Baroque tafelmusik, I hardly ever buy new ones. Lodestar was an exception, and this was the other one. Hence, by default, I include it in my list.
That said, appearances can be deceptive, for despite imagery that seems to be a black metal/J-pop crossover, it would probably be more accurate to call this coldwave/J-pop/industrial/black metal/H. P. Lovecraft/Japanese traditional crossover. As you can imagine, it is the latter influence (mangled by all the other ones) that works for me. Listen to ‘Atarai No Tsumeato’ for a perfect example of this.
Furthermore, it should be emphasised that this album is a sort of ‘best of’ for the Western market consisting of four new pieces and re-recordings of ten pieces from their back catalogue [NB although I favour vinyl it should be noted that the CD issue has three more tracks] the re-recordings being necessitated by the (inevitable in J-pop) graduation turnover of band members. Not that this project should ever be seen as just another exercise in J-pop marketing with the band members as ciphers to a cynical production team, as at least two members have recurring lyric and music credits on these releases, but with Tsukumo Hotaru recently graduating to go to University, who knows what direction the project will go in.
Also, it has a front cover by Suehiro Maruo. What more could you want? Altogether now: ‘Iä! Shub-Niggurath – joshikousei kawaii!’
1. Gaika – Security (Mixpak Records)
Post-Apocalyptic Industrial/Dancehall/Grime/Pop? Ok!
2. Las Sucias – ¡Salte De Medio! (Ratskin Records)
Noise saturated Reggaeton with feminist leanings. Sense a theme?
3. Kinit Her – The Blooming World (Pesanta Urfolk)
This band continues to blow me away, release after release. Simply the best that American neofolk has to offer.
1. David Bowie – Blackstar (Columbia)
Few have transformed music the way that Bowie did, and even after his death he managed to keep doing what generations of music fans and artists worshipped him for. Every time I play it, I wonder will there be a time when I’ll stop getting shivers from it.
2. Ian William Craig – Centres (130701)
In times when music often serves the cliches of a niche audience, the mainstream, or streaming service’s algorithms, Centres by Ian William Craig is proof that there’s still art, which serves nothing else but pure emotions and artistic freedom. Still doing it in a way that enchants audiences from all backgrounds.
3. Peder Mannerfelt – Controlling Body (Wallroom Production)
Only Peder Mannerfelt can achieve such detail, depth, and texture in music so perfectly and systematically composed and arranged. You can never play this album (loud) enough.
1. Ostara – Napoleonic Blues (Soleilmoon)
2. Night Profound – Invocatio Lux, Evocatio Nox (Not Just Religious Music)
3. VLK – Of Wolves’ Blood (Tour de Garde)
1. Qrixkuor – Three Devils Dance (Invictus Productions)
Death metal that is equal parts blindingly ferocious, murky, and engaging is pretty thin on the ground, but Qrixkuor hit all the buttons. Following up their Consecration of the Temple EP, Three Devils Dance is an almost incomprehensible swirl of blast beats, cavernous vocals, skull-fucking death metal riffs, and guitar solos that whammy and swell out of the muck.
2. Shift Worker – Self-Titled (Night Gaunt Recordings)
Noisy minimal techno was kinda my “thing” this year, and Shift Worker is a great hallmark for the genre. It’s all blistering gray blasts of static and heady beats honed into a knife-edge that’s almost danceable if you’re weird enough. So good, I ordered the tape (though I gritted my teeth around my detestation of physical media).
3. Book of Sand – Occult Anarchist Propaganda (Mouthbreather)
There’s not a lot one can say about a Book of Sand release. You either get it or you don’t, so go ahead and suck it and see.
1. Soft Kill – Choke (Profound Lore)
2016 saw Soft Kill return with Choke, the genre-bending follow up to last year’s post-punk monolith Heresy. Choke showcases an exceptional blend of dreamy guitars, machine-like drumming, and some of the coolest synthesizer tones I’ve heard in the genre. To simply call this my “album of the year” would be an understatement; this is the album I’ve been waiting for my whole life.
2. Body of Light – Let Me Go (Dais Records)
I’ve been a fan of Body of Light since the release of 2013’s Volontà Di Amore. Over the past few years, Body of Light has managed to continue to push the boundaries within the current synth-pop scene and Let Me Go showcases the duo at their sleekest and sexiest yet. Driving drum machines and thumping bass synth provide the perfect foundation for Alex Jarson’s captivating vocals and suggestive lyrics.
3. Sacramence – Lovers Seek Dominance (Knife Vision)
Sacramence started as a lo-fi black metal project akin to Bone Awl or Ildjarn, but now founding member S. Jordan operates alone with the help of the occasional collaborator. On Lovers Seek Dominance, S. Jordan experiments with field recordings, religious themes, and minimal synth arrangements to create something wholly refreshing. Fans of Coil, early Current 93, and Prurient should take note.
1. David Bowie – Blackstar (Columbia)
On January 8, Blackstar was very released. On January 10, David Bowie died. Blackstar on its own is a triumph of experimental pop, but the fact that he so bravely used it to reflect on his looming end pushes to something else entirely. For all of metal’s fixation with death, this album approaches the subject with a profound clarity that is barely comprehensible. Listening with full knowledge of what happened, the closing track “I Can’t Give Everything Away” becomes the final statement of a man who dedicated his life to art and continued to push, even when he knew he would not be around to enjoy his greatest achievement. We should all strive for such commitment.
2. Run the Jewels – RTJ3 (Independent)
Stop the presses! This album was released on fucking Christmas, two weeks earlier than scheduled. A Christmas fucking miracle! These guys are unstoppable. Unlike RTJ2, which had me immediately hooked, RTJ3 was a bit more of a slow burn. The beats are darker and a bit less explosive, the delivery is often faster and more nuanced than their past work. My first listen, through a car stereo, didn’t do it justice, so it wasn’t until I started digging in with headphones that the truth was revealed: RTJ3 is dense, powerful, dangerous, brilliant. These guys continue to prove that they are at the top of their games. The lyrics are their most challenging, smartest, funniest; the music is interesting, memorable, carefully assembled. I strongly believe that rap provides the greatest range for expression of any modern form of music. RTJ3 makes me feel like I am right.
3. Klimt 1918 – Sentimentale Jugend (Prophecy Productions)
After so many years, I was beginning to lose a little hope that this would ever come out. Their frequent reposting of their own songs with nothing new to show for themselves made me wonder whether they were on autopilot or just on to bigger and better things. When they announced that their new release would be a double album, I completely lost hope, since double albums are never good. I was a fool. Sentimentale Jugend is easily Klimt 1918‘s best album: a sprawling, dynamic, powerful, gorgeous, dark work of art. I will never doubt again.
Best Album of the Year: Wild Hog by the Furrow Collective (Hudson Records). A UK supergroup of Alasdair Roberts, Emily Portman, Rachel Newman, and Lucy Farrell. A collection of the darkest of English, Scots, and Irish traditional songs arranged for the modern listener. The simplicity rubs raw the blithe relationship with death and revenge that is the throughline for this collection.
Best Film of the Year: The Love Witch (written and directed by Anna Biller). Camp meets feminism meets occult meets fashion in glorious technicolor. Don’t let the stunning visuals and the presentational stylistic homage to 1970’s Eurosleaze distract you from the larger message: What does a woman want from a man?
Best Book of the Year: To be fair, I’m not mentioning any of the great books we (Feral House) published this year. We set a high bar! A book that I’ve gone back to a number of times this year is Matthew Champion‘s Medieval Graffiti: The Lost Voices of England’s Churches (Ebury Press). The title doesn’t give you any real clues as to the treasure inside. Champion, an English archeologist, has uncovered a subversive history in England’s churches. From base jokes to witch hexes, he documents and explains the curious medieval phenomenon of defiling churches.
1. Shirley Collins – Lodestar (Domino)
Her seventh album, and the first in thirty-eight years. Her eighty-one year-old voice aroused via stunning arrangements by the fellows from Cyclobe. Gorgeous and timeless, repeated listens brings great reward. I hope this isn’t her last.
2. Sansit Ariso - Kalifornische Spiele (Via Injection)
2016 was a good year for one of my most beloved favorites, Christian Schoppik. Aside from this fantastic and bewildering album, his other unit Brannten Schnüre released Geträumt Hab Ich Vom Martinszug as well as a split with the equally inimitable Swesor Bhrater. All three of these albums effortlessly represent some of the most creative, wild and romantic post-industrial music of the 2016.
3. Hespérion XXI / La Capella Reial de Catalunya – Granada 1013 – 1502 (Alia Vox)
Jordi Savall and crew recreates and/or muses on 500 years worth of the heady tensions and fruitful admixtures found at the cross section of Jewish, Catholic, and Muslim culture in Andalusia. Mozarabic hymns, Moorish dances, intoxicating atmospheres, and devastating ballads, all rendered by some of the most deft hands currently gracing the field of Early Music.
1. Con-Dom – How Welcome Is Death… (Tesco Organization)
I personally don’t have the intestine to listen to this every day, but it’s recognizable within minutes as a masterpiece. A cinematic sickbed symphony, almost ludicrously transcending genre.
2. Dandy Lion – 2day’s Adventures in 2morrow (Disques de Lapin)
Debut album by my favorite ventriloquist doll. I was lucky enough to see it performed “live,” which makes me probably among thirty people on earth who have seen a ventriloquist doll lip-synching.
3. David Bowie – Blackstar (Columbia)
Overwhelmed by (yet commercially propelled by) the artist’s death, this record nevertheless remains at the top of the Bowie pantheon a year after the eulogies. Boundary-breaking, even in this jaded age, with an incredible support band.
1. Swans – The Glowing Man (Young God Records)
2. Einstürzende Neubauten – Greatest Hits (Potomak)
3. David Bowie – Blackstar (Columbia)
1. SubRosa – For This We Fought the Battle of Ages (Profound Lore)
This release proved addicting. I listened to it the most this year. I remember when a violin in a metal band was “exotic” and was often seen as a tacked-on element demonstrating a band was truly tragic and doomy. However, SubRosa has seamlessly integrated string instruments into their sound in such a way that they blend with the down-tuned bass and guitars. They’ve perfected what bands like My Dying Bride and Celestial Season began in the early nineties.
2. Worm Ouroboros – What Graceless Dawn (Profound Lore)
I’ve again chosen a band that features my friend and musical colleague Aesop Dekker on drums. Yes, I’m biased, but Aesop is simply in too many great bands (and I’m lucky to have heard advance tracks from Extremity which are going to satisfy anyone into Carnage, Asphyx, and Entombed). Worm Ouroboros, thanks in large part to the anchored bass lines of Lorraine Rath, prove to be a jazz trio in the disguise of a down-tempo, doom trio. Aesop continues to develop his jazz vocabulary which I’m pleased to see making its way onto the current Khôrada demos. Jessica Way’s interleaving guitar lines recall the tones of jazz players like Mike Stern and Pat Matheny (and if I recall correctly from touring with them years ago, she also uses a traditional jazz guitar pick). Combined, the three of them are advancing the sound of doom, and are absolutely a “power trio” whose power is sustained by their reach, breadth, and tone rather than bombast and blast beats.
3. Dysrhythmia – The Veil of Control (Profound Lore)
Albums from bands like Krallice, Vektor, and Dysrhythmia continue to inspire me and my own work with Sculptured. Like these folks, I grew up on techy death metal like Cynic, Atheist, and Death, and I like to think Sculptured is part of that trajectory. Listening to Kevin Hufnagel makes me want to be a better guitarist. It’s a healthy encouragement that keeps musical scenes and genres developing.
1. Dave & Jerry – Almost Alive in Two Zero One Five (Disques de Lapin)
Despite the curious title, this is a 2016 release of studio material recorded in 2014 by David E. Williams and Jerome Deppe as a four-piece band with Tristan Deppe (Jerome’s son) on guitars and Justin Dorsey on percussion. This is the sound of a collaboration between old friends and the listener certainly gets a feeling of familial intimacy from the recordings—albeit a different stripe altogether from, say, Waylon & Willie. Of note is Deppe’s singing of Williams’s songs on this album, adding a smoothness to their sardonic subject matter. Included is a fantastically singular rendition of the late Leonard Cohen‘s “Famous Blue Raincoat.” The fact that this was recorded in 2014 but released this year, the year of Cohen’s demise (along with so many other important artists), is all too apropos. Pressed in an edition of only 100 marbled variant-colored vinyl and packaged in a silk-screened chipboard cover, including a groovy newsprint poster with lyrics and a photo collage, this is quite a special and personal release well worth the acquisition.
2. Steel Hook Prostheses – Calm Morbidity (Malignant Records)
Another dose of medicine from the death industrial duo, Steel Hook Prostheses. This project advances with each release, honing their craft like the fine edge of a surgeon’s scalpel. Expect punishing blasts of distortion, skittering shadow-streaks of descending noise, and thalassic vocals from the abyss. “Hand of Glory” is a favorite!
3. Various - All My Sins Remembered: The Sonic Worlds of John Murphy (The Epicurean)
What a wonderful release to celebrate an incomparable artist. The German label the Epicurean did a fantastic job putting together this three-disc set totaling thirty-seven tracks from across his prolific and collaborative career. Industrial fans will be familiar with the inclusion of tracks from Whitehouse, SPK, Lustmord, Genocide Organ, Blood Axis, :Of the Wand and the Moon:, Zeena Schreck (née LaVey), and more, but also included are examples of his work with Australian post-punk bands like NEWS, Orchestra of Skin and Bone, Whirlywirld, and more. There is a track featured from the Associates (an alternate version of “Skipping”), but conspicuously absent is anything from Max Q (the band he was in with Michael Hutchence of INXS), or anything from Death in June. These absences do not at all hinder appreciation of the whole assembly though, and one can just imagine the Herculean effort involved in assembling such a tribute compilation within a finite time frame and with so many projects involved, all with a mind that all proceeds from sales of the release would go to his surviving widow (a touching fact). Many are better suited than I to eulogize the late John Murphy. Suffice to say that this is a fantastic aesthetic tribute to his pummeling oeuvre, and it should be in the collection of all who appreciate the history of post-punk and post-industrial music.
1. S U R V I V E – RR7349 (Relapse Records)
2. Joseph Bishara – The Conjuring 2 OST (WaterTower Music)
3. John Carpenter – Lost Themes II (Sacred Bones)
1. Urfaust – Empty Space Meditation (Ván Records)
Urfaust continues to push the black metal envelope, trashing the established norms and rebuilding them in their own image. To me, it’s the very essence of what made the genre great to begin with. Between IX’s vocals and the Sonic Youth charisma of Jim Dokter’s percussion, this was a record I found myself gravitating towards again and again.
2. King Dude – SEX (Not Just Religious Music)
TJ Cowgill once again delivers the goods. From straight-up 60’s garage punk to flawless neofolk, stylistically the album is all over the map, but completely jells as a concept. I honestly couldn’t imagine it any other way. Thomas continues to refuse to hide his light under a bushel, regardless of who it may offend.
3. Dave & Jerry – Almost Alive in Two Zero One Five (Disques de Lapin)
I’ve said it before and I will continue to shout it from the rooftops: David E. Williams is America’s best kept secret. That he’s not a household name, at least in this country, is a travesty. Jerome Deppe is angel brilliantly disguised as a man. Lennon and McCartney be damned.
With so much truly great music released this year by a lot of artists that I respect and admire, it is difficult to narrow it down to just the top three releases. A knee-jerk reaction might be to name the Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen, and Neurosis albums and call it a day. Be done. Move on. However, as with almost everything I do, I cannot let sleeping dogs lie (perhaps I should learn that lesson already). The aforementioned artists did put out amazing and very moving work this year. For some, it was some of their very best—no doubt about it. And there are plenty of other artists and releases too.
Below, I have devised a complex emotional and intellectually preferential algorithm that utilizes a myriad of intuitive and contextual nuances mixed with my predispositions of taste in aesthetics and music. An algorithm that weighs in repeatability, time I spend thinking about the albums while not listening to them, and how overwhelming the urge is to hurry up and listen to them again. It also factors in artists that are lesser known who require and deserve more attention than some of the well-knowns mentioned above.
1. Worm Ouroboros – What Graceless Dawn (Profound Lore)
Worm Ouroboros has become one of my very favorite bands. Their output over the first three albums has been nothing short of amazingly composed, ingenious beauty. This latest album follows consistently in the footsteps of their previous work. Building on themes of longing and emotional desolation, a journey that they started two albums ago moves into this next haunting chapter. Devastatingly moody guitar and bass melodies leave ample room for Jessica Way and Lorraine Rath’s siren-like vocals and occasionally grow into louder tension-filled and melodic passages. This album is like finding solace in an ancient winter forest.
2. Siavash Amini & Matt Finney – Familial Rot (Umor Rex)
It seems that Matt Finney has kicked his writing into high gear with a dense and prolific prose of personal turmoil and apocalypse that is finding multiple outlets. This album came as a huge and pleasant surprise. It is true that prior to this work I have not been familiar with Siavash Amini’s music and compositional work, but I am paying attention now. He has constructed a sonic environment for Finney’s words that can only be described as stunningly melancholic and tense. There is something so familiar and eerily comforting about this album, like a memory of an old but lost friend. The whole album is full of beautifully encapsulated aching.
3. Look to the North – You’re a Séance, Old North (AOsmosis Records)
Although the music for this release was originally recorded in 2013 it has only come out this year on AOsmosis Records. Everything about this album is as close to perfect as you can get. From the exquisite handmade packaging, which magnifies the context for the the album to the beguiling and ingenious recordings of Zachary Corsa and David Colohan. This is a short dreamlike journey into darker, northern-bound emotions. The music strikes an immaculate balance between found sounds/field recordings and musical compositions, all encased in a beautifully printed and hand-bound book.
1. Clipping. – Splendor & Misery (Sub Pop)
2. Blood Incantation – Starspawn (Dark Descent)
3. Oranssi Pazuzu – Värähtelijä (Svart Records)
1. Con-Dom – How Welcome Is Death… (Tesco Organisation)
An obvious choice, perhaps, but also one that—in all honesty—I have yet to listen to in one sitting. The master of British power electronics, Mike Dando‘s latest offering is possibly one of the most challenging things he’s put out to date. Structured around themes of euthanasia and terminal illness, it is sometimes brooding and contemplative, at others angry and grating. Tracks like ‘Just Fuckin’ Die’ are perfectly crafted power electronics, then you’re brought back down to earth again with the unapologetic bleakness of ‘Ending (Nora)’. It’s easy to make this kind of thing schlocky—particularly anything that’s thematically strong and sample-heavy—but Dando, of course, pulls it off.
2. Trepaneringsritualen / Body Cargo – Split (Autarkeia)
There have been a few stand-out dark ambient releases for me this year, but this split from the Lithuanian Body Cargo and the Swedish Trepaneringsritualen has been one of those I’ve come back to again and again. Body Cargo’s side is crackly, rumbling, and rough around the edges, perfectly in keeping with their usual style. As for the Trepaneringsritualen contribution, while Thomas Ekelund doesn’t do away with his usual death industrial sound, there are also more subtle synth elements that lift it towards something else: I can’t listen to this without imagining it soundtracking The Fog or a Fulci film (to my mind, a very good thing).
3. Primitive Knot – Disciples of the Black Sun (Ritual Void)
A bit of a wild card for me, this one. Primitive Knot are not at all the kind of thing I’d usually go for: elements of dark ambient mixed with brief glimpses of noise mixed with acid guitars mixed with synths mixed with occasional northern-British inflected vocals. Sounds bizarre, but it works (and I’m pretty confident that’s not just the bias of a fellow northerner speaking). If you’re a fan of space rock, dark ambient, noise, or veer towards the more upbeat end of the electronics scale, I recommend giving this a go.
1. Fovea Hex – The Salt Garden 1 (Janet Records)
Clodagh Simonds has such a powerful understanding of space. Absolutely haunting and beautiful. No one else sounds like this. Whenever I hear her voice it makes me pause, an artist that demands presence upon hearing.
2. Wyrding – Self-Titled (Small Doses)
Huge, emotionally powerful, gorgeous… This record lives in its own strange land somewhere between funeral doom, folk, seventies Bowie, and an almost Angelo Badalamenti atmosphere at times, with melodic guitar harmonies and Troy Schafer from Kinit Her’s distinct voice. Very hard for me to describe adequately, but it’s just glorious.
3. Alaric – The End of Mirrors (Neurot)
This is one of my favorite local bands here in Oakland, California, live and recorded. These are people who I also happen to care for very much. Heavy, dynamic, dreamy, apocalyptic deathrock/post-punk with powerful, tribal drumming. I love every element of instrumentation, voice, and composition. Watching them play always lulls me into some kind of hypnotic state.
1. Touring with :Of the Wand and the Moon: and Die Weisse Rose (Kim Larsen & Thomas Bøjden, pictured above).
2. Working on sound design and scores for several releases on Jonathan Dennison‘s Cadabra Records label, including H.P. Lovecraft‘s Pickman’s Model, Clark Ashton Smith‘s Return of the Sorcerer, and performing Lovecraft’s The Lurking Fear with Andrew Leman and Josh Yelle at the Lovecraft Film Festival in Providence.
3. Recording/co-producing Soft Tissue with Lament Cityscape (Mike McClatchey, Sean McCullough, David Small) and co-releasing it with Battleground Records, and performing material from the album at Southwest Terror Fest with Gretchen Heinel, Mike McClatchey, Sean McCullough, and David Small, with many many thanks to David Rodgers.
1. The Body – No One Deserves Happiness (Thrill Jockey)
A stunning, dark, and intense album that is perhaps the pinnacle of the Body’s recorded output to date. Not fitting within any genre, they are able to push the mantle of creativity ever onwards without limitations. Seamlessly constructing an album that is immensely tangible with washes of harsh electronic noise, pounding percussion, dark ambient structures, screamed guttural male and divine female vocals to stunningly malevolent effect.
2. Mark Korven -The VVitch OST (Milan Records)
A beautifully alluring soundtrack that beckons the listener to be enticed into the darkness that seeps from its very essence. Mark Korven has produced a haunting and challenging soundtrack that pushes the listener out of their comfort zone. Yet, from its pitch blackness, rewards can be reaped in abundance.
3. Alaric – End of Mirrors (Neurot Recordings)
An intensely dark and brooding album with a gripping atmosphere that emanates from its every note. Trying to define the album’s sound into one genre or another is a futile task as they pull in influences from a hefty array of sources, including goth, post-punk, dark ambience, and anarcho punk, and amalgamate them into something unique, sombre, and powerfully mesmerising. I’ve listened to this album perhaps more than any other this year, and my admiration for it continues to grow with each listen.
1. David Bowie: Blackstar (Columbia)
2. Leonard Cohen: You Want it Darker (Columbia)
3. King Dude – SEX (Not Just Religious Music)
1. Sköll & TourdeForce – Antologia Elettronica (Rupe Tarpea Produzioni)
Twelve re-recordings and one brand new song of Sköll teaming up with TourdeForce, creating (for lack of a better word) ‘identity electro pop’. The German colloquialism ‘Ohrwurm’ (literally ‘ear worm’) describes a particularly catchy tune that you just can’t get out of your head. This CD is full of them. Highly addictive.
2. Der Blaue Reiter – Fragments of Life, Love & War (Neuropa Records)
In the tenth year of its existence, Der Blaue Reiter again delivers martial neoclassical music at its best. Twelve tracks divided into the parts ‘Life’, ‘Love’, and ‘War’ (plus a prologue and ending). Uplifting, disturbing, rallying, and breathtakingly beautiful. A masterpiece.
3. Winterhart – Ryk of Glory (Danse Macabre)
Winterhart (the brainchild of the duo behind electro legends Dance or Die) combines the musical knowledge and production abilities of a well-established act with the hunger and eagerness of a newly formed project. The two guys discovered their love for neofolk and martial industrial relatively recently, but they discovered it big time. Special recommendation for martial folk fans!
1. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool (XL Recordings)
2. Tanz Ohne Musik – Infinity (Galakthorrö)
3. Dag Rosenqvist – Elephant (Dronarivm)
1. Wardruna – Runaljod – Ragnarok (By Norse Music)
The great Norwegian Viking reenactors have managed to compose three quite different albums in honour of the runes and the old ways. The third and final part is very shamanistic and diverse, maybe less driven than the last album but still wonderful on many levels. To feel the Old Gods, follow Wardruna on the way of the Seeker.
2. While Angels Watch – Interregnum (FolkWorld)
Few musicians are left who are able to carry the myth and sound of the old World Serpent label. While Angels Watch is a band that has been around since the early days of post-punk music, with a very rare output—but some great tunes over the years. Many years in the pipeline, Michael DE Victor‘s album delivers all the goods: crystal clear guitars, crooning voice, mysterious samples, ecstatic violins (by Matt Howden), female voices—and that apocalyptic pathos. A beautiful and totally pessimistic album.
3. Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker (Columbia)
Of the many tragic losses to the art world in 2016, Leonard Cohen‘s voice is the one I will miss the most. On his final album, he reflects on the fate of the world, philosophy, and his own death. The album is not as dark as it gets, but has that stunning feeling of eternal sadness that will stay with us. Farewell, Leonard.
1. 40 Watt Sun – Wider Than the Sky (Svart Records)
2. Architeuthis Rex – Stilbon Is Dead (Midira)
3. It Only Gets Worse – Angels (Cloister Recordings)
1. Jo Quail – Five Incantations (Independent)
2. New Model Army – Winter (Ear Music)
3. Ruts DC – Music Must Destroy (Let Them Eat Vinyl)
1. Osiah – Terror Firma (Siege of Amida)
This place could also belong to a new album from Black Tongue, Immoralist, Yuth Forever, or Barrier. This is Osiah‘s debut album and it’s excellent. Deathcore as it should be. Your mum would be proud if you played on that album. But you don’t.
2. Lonesome River Band – Bridging the Tradition (Mountain Home Music)
You can’t always be depressed and staring into the abyss, and that’s when bluegrass comes in. The Lonesome River Band brings that happiness. Put this on, admire the musical perfection and postpone sacrificing that goat. Neither Satan or Santa are real. Grow the fuck up.
3. Telefon Tel Aviv – Fahrenheit Fair Enough (Reissue) (Ghostly International)
Fifteen years after the original release, it’s back. Intelligent Dance Music. This one will make you think about the concept of multi-layered reality. If not, don’t worry. There is always neofolk for people like you.
1. Sophia – Unclean (Cyclic Law)
2. Adaestuo – Tecent Semitae (W.T.C. Productions)
3. Arkona – Lunaris (Debemur Morti Productions)
1. Marielle V. Jakobsons – Star Core (Thrill Jockey)
2. Brian Eno – The Ship (Warp Records)
3. Travis Scott – Birds in the Trap Sing Brian McKnight (Grand Hustle)
1. Dúo Rodriguez-Franceschini – Self-titled (Independent)
In this beautifully hand-wrapped, hand-painted, hand-written record, we can find two beautiful musicians performing eight beautiful traditional songs from France, and one from Sweden if I’m not wrong (although they’re from Spain and Italy, and they live in Holland). All arranged by themselves for their hurdy-gurdy/diatonic accordion dialogues, with occasional duet singing. The melodies are old, beautiful, touching, and the performance is delicate and brave at the same time. We had the pleasure to share a stage with them when they played with Sangre de Muerdago in Holland in October and they offered us a balm for our ears and souls.
2. Ill Wicker – Untamed (The Sign Records)
Ill Wicker is one the most exciting bands I’ve discovered in the last couple of years. Their first album is a beautiful masterpiece of acid and psychedelic Comus-ish folk, and this their second album starts where they left it on the previous one. Untamed is a magnificent symphony that carries you through many different worlds and states and then leaves you right back at the beginning of the loop. As well, we played together on our last tour, and their live performance is also one of my very favourites this year, no question.
3. ColdWorld – Autumn (Cold Dimensions)
This is an album made by the family, but it is not for this reason that it is in this list. The talent of G.B.is always overwhelming and in this album he goes beyond boundaries. When you start discovering the details and harmonies of this album you’ll realize that, though an easy listening black metal album, it is full of amazing twists and moments that you’ll keep on discovering each time you spin this slice of wax. There’s a lot to discover listen after listen. Props to ColdWorld for being a one-of-a-kind metal band.
1. Horse Cult – Day Dreams and Night Mares (Independent)
Day Dreams and Night Mares transports the listener to the sights and sounds of primordial man. The vocal harmonies are numinous and raw. The delicate texturing and timbre of the instrumentation evokes tall grass in wide-open fields, boulders covered in moss, a thunderstorm rolling through a darkened sky, the wind rustling the leaves in the tops of ancient trees.
2. Dave and Jerry – Almost Alive in Two Zero Five (Disques de Lapin)
This collaborative album by David E. Williams and Jerome Deppe offers a fresh take on old favorite songs. Deppe’s electric guitar provides a mournful and haunting framework for the album, upon which Williams’s keyboard dances and shape-shifts to match the character of each individual song. From somber to sarcastically upbeat, the arrangement of these songs acts as a perfect complement to the indomitable gallows humor of the lyrics.
3. Saor – Guardians (Northern Silence)
Saor strikes a delicate balance between modernity and antiquity. The combination of heavy electric guitars and kit drums with fiddles and highland bagpipes offers a beautiful and unique landscape for the melodies to travel through. The release of Guardians brings the listener back to the world they constructed in previous albums, full of new paths to explore in the realm of Celtic folk metal.
1. Wolcensmen – Songs from the Fyrgen (Deivlforst Records)
I discovered Dan Capp‘s work through a thread on Facebook and had no prior knowledge of his music. I am often sceptical when it comes to trialling a new artist as the instantaneous effect of free streaming invariably makes me impatient. Not here. There is a grandeur, sincerity, and gravitas to this album that evokes a northern forest, pure alpine air, a folk purity, and a grace that soars to the peaks. I am still absorbing the hyperborean atmosphere and coming to terms with what I regard as a musical revelation. Stunning.
2. Various – All My Sins Remembered: The Sonic Worlds of John Murphy (The Epicurean)
Andrew King invited me to submit a piece to this album but a technical glitch prevented it, something I have to live with. Nonetheless, any celebration of this singular performer and composer who spans the years of experiential music has to do him justice, and while I am not a fan of all of the contributors, the gestalt effect of the whole, the magnificent package, and presentation is a beautiful homage and memento mori to a great artist, friend, and collaborator.
3. Leonard Cohen – You Want it Darker (Columbia)
I liked Blackstar by David Bowie, but I wasn’t going to list it simply because it was his swan song. Cohen has been a greater legend in my mind over the years and had he died after Old Ideas, it may have been a sentimental choice. But Cohen, like Bowie, knew he was on his way to the other side and so the elegiac depth of this album contains that bittersweet mood of dissolution and consummation that ties up the decades and unifies the legacy.
1. Bölzer – Hero (Iron Bonehead)
A boldly defiant step that set this band in a league of legends. This will be an album to look back on and remember where you were when you heard it first. Casting is all to wind, Bölzer challenged metal fans out of their comfort zones and into potentially strange territory. Those who endured are rewarded, those who fell were never meant to be there to begin with.
2. Wovenhand – Star Treatment (Sargent House)
The thunder of an elder David Eugene Edwards is full of more potency than most extreme music of any kind could hope to achieve. The atmosphere on this is dense and the songs are hard as steel. However, the spirit of Wovenhand contains the same powerful and mysterious charm as ever.
3. Vomitor – Prayers to Hell (Invictus Productions)
Pure fucking filth. This album makes me want to drink a bottle of Jameson, jump kick through a car window, crash the car into a brick wall, dive out at the last minute, kick in the door to a brothel, and then light myself on fire!
1. Ulver – ATGCLVLSSCAP (House of Mythology)
Bands that evolve with each release tend to be more interesting to me and this is another landmark release from Ulver. Brooding art-rock that exudes a level of spirituality seldom seen in modern music.
2. Virus – Memento Collider (Karisma Records)
Another band that seems to evolve with each release, this latest work is a supreme album of progressive, avant-garde metal featuring an expert blend of striking vocals, dissonant guitars, a jazz-laden rhythm section, and Norwegian iciness.
3. Ostara – Napoleonic Blues (Soleilmoon)
The music and musings of Ostara‘s main-man, Richard Leviathan, have long influenced my own artistic endeavors. I hate to use the phrase “return to form,” but the guitar work and increasingly poetic lyrics on this album reminds of past favorites Whispers to the Soul or Kingdom Gone, yet pushes the genre further. An added bonus for the reference to In Ruin‘s hometown on “Devil in Detroit.”
1. Shirley Collins – Loadstar (Domino)
2. Genocide Organ – Obituary of the Americas (Tesco Organization)
3. Ostara – Napoleonic Blues (Soleilmoon)
1. David Bowie – Blackstar (Columbia)
My favorite artist ever goes out with one of his best albums. Each listen is more complex and richer than the last. It really feels like nothing I’ve ever heard before. An album that is hard to listen to without tearing up.
2. P.J. Harvey – The Hope Six Demolition Project (Vagrant Records)
A raw, vivid album that sounds more like journalism than anything else. Not exactly political. More than that, it is deeper and more visceral. Her past three albums are some of the best I’ve heard from anyone in a decade. I think she’s the most vital current musician.
3. Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression (Loma Vista)
It’s got a lot of the feel of his The Idiot and Lust for Life albums, my two favorites by him and just two of my all-time favorite albums by anyone. This one is really vibrant—lots of energy.
1. Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker (Columbia)
When I first heard it, I said, “It just feels so final. I can’t imagine what he could do to follow this.” Sadly, it was final, but what a parting bow it is.
2. Derroll Adams – Feelin’ Fine (Ghosts from the Basement)
A reissue of a rare and out-of-print seventies album from my favorite banjo songster of all time. There’s not enough Derroll Adams in the world, so any reissue is a wonderful thing. With the additional bonus tracks, you get the full Zen-banjo-trilogy of song—”The Sky,” “The Mountain,” and “The Valley”—along with many others. Both traditional songs and originals are featured here.
3. Eyeless in Gaza – Sun Blues (Ambivalent Scale Recordings)
Experimentalism and great songwriting come together in fantastic ways.
1. Weyes Blood – Front Row Seat to Earth (Mexican Summer Records)
I recently had the pleasure of opening for Weyes Blood in Philadelphia which prompted me to become familiar with her output. Her voice and music stirs up dormant faceless sadness but with just the right amount of optimism to make listening to her a real pleasure. Her latest offering brings the golden era of seventies singer-songwriter flare (think Carin Carpenter, Linda Perhacs, and Sandy Denny) back from the dead—but with just that touch of bittersweet eeriness to make it perfect. Beautifully stunning.
2. King Dude – SEX (Not Just Religious Music)
Once again, TJ Cowgill brings us into his world of Lucifer, true crime, humor, and strangeness. This record might be my favorite of the Dude thus far. Songs like “The Girls” are immediately odd and catchy, evoking a very David Bowie-esque quality coupled with psyched-out garage rock with tracks like “Swedish Boys” and “Sex Dungeon,” and the much more experimental numbers like “Prisoners.” King Dude LPs are always full of haunted little surprises making them of a genuine rock-‘n’-roll spirit, and SEX does not fail to deliver.
3. Spahn Ranch – Back to the Wood (Dais Records)
Well, this is a reissue. Spahn Ranch hailed from Detroit during the mid to late eighties. Dais Records took demos, unreleased tracks, and tracks from their one and only proper LP and created Back to the Wood, which serves as a great sampling of a group that exists in the realm of cult legends. A psychedelic post-punk masterpiece with overtones of a deeply spiritual nature. For fans of Joy Division, early Sonic Youth, and Savage Republic.