Friday, December 2, 2016

What is 2016? Baby, Don't Hurt Me

Well, here we are in December. There are a lot of memes about what an awful year it's been across the globe, but I personally haven't had The Worst Year Of My Life. I mean, it was pretty terrible that David Bowie surprise-died and I'm still not prepared to write anything about Blackstar but that's why the Ancient Romans invented wine*

it really hasn't been, tho

What music even came out in 2016? It's been one of the least exciting years for music that I can recall. Thanks to streaming services and some life stability in my increasingly advanced age (previously discussed here) it's hard to tell what was actually released when. How embarassing, For It Is True!: I had to do some careful and considered research on popular internet website "wikipedia" to assemble my completely unecessary best of 2016 write-up.


This Year's Let-Downs

~Where My Own Huge Expectations Are Not Met, But That's The Artists' Fault~

The Life of Pablo by Kanye West: Look, I know this album is still good, and probably quite popular, but I was hoping for him to go further down the path he stomped down in Yeezus. Instead he sort of jumped in to the flowerbed and made a sub-par sequel to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Hopefully a) Kanye is OK and b) Trump's America pushes him in to the weird again.

this picture of junk is more exciting than M83's album
Junk by M83: The first couple of songs are fantastic, which makes the subsequent beige soundblob all the more disappointing.

(I'd like to point out that at this point I stopped typing to casually floss my teeth. I told you, I'm turning into a double-J-listening responsible adult.)

The Bride by Bat for Lashes: I'm still pro Natasha Khan, but whichever record label executive indulged her in this concept album with the thinnest premise in the world made a horrible mistake. Track one, "Oh! A bride is mega excited to get married yay!" Track two, "Oh no, groom has horrible and prophetic dream of his own death!" Tracks three to twelve, bride sooks because groom is dead. That's the whole album. There's even a spoken word piece of very questionable quality.

Albums That Were Good But Not Great

actual lyrics from "Bird Song" by M.I.A.
~These may have lasted like, a month in my car~

AIM by M.I.A.: The video for "Borders" was fantastic and lifted my expectations for the album to drop. "Finally" is one of the greatest songs she has even done, but, "Bird Song" is undeniably the worst.

Boy King by Wild Beasts: I actually really enjoyed this album! Big Cat, Alpha Female and Get My Bang are all great sing-alongs. I just wished they did more of their dual-vocalist tornadoes as seen on the prior three albums.

Wildflower by The Avalanches: For me, this felt too much like a revolving door circus of guest artists than a good, solid album from some genuine o.g. gamechangers. Pleasant listening, but how could they ever follow up Since I Left You, really?

A Small Selection Of Stand-out Tracks 

~Where I either didn't listen to the album or didn't care for it~

  • All Night by Chance the Rapper, because I don't have time for gospel nonsense
  • Hold Up, Sorry and Formation by Beyonce. I might be the only person in the world that doesn't care for Don't Hurt Yourself, and the ballads on her self-titled are better than the ones that appeared here.
  • FloriDada by Animal Collective. Everyone gave up on them after Centipede Hz (quite rightly,) but this song is great.

Home Runs

~Really Great Albums if I'm Completely Hair-nest~

HOPELESSNESS by Anohni. I got to see her perform this live at the Sydney Opera House, and it was fantastic. A completely terrifying and cynical look at .,;xmodern.societyx;,. Fully endorsed by renowned supermodel Naomi Campbell (see below). Best moments are "4 Degrees," "Watch Me," "Crisis," "Drone Bomb Me." Give it a listen, ya mug.

Hills End by DMA's. I already wrote about this album here. Unlike slurring rubbish a la The Smith Street Band or Camp Cope, these guys help me keep faith in Australian rock music. (Though I will admit I'm keen on a sneaky Violent Soho song here and there, in the interest of being a massive hypocrite)

The Colour in Anything by James Blake. This took me a while to get in to. It's a pretty long album, but with repeat listens it all reveals itself as quite varied and detailed. Got that good gloomy rainy night mood, and "Timeless" employs the best use of caralarm.wav I've ever heard. I'd also like to mention that James Blake and Kanye West songs are the only times it's appropriate to bring out the perpetually formless Bon Iver.

Atrocity Exhibition by Danny Brown. This is some bonkers stuff. Demonic swamp rap with the most nasal voice since Brian Molko. When I told one of my teenage students I loved Danny Brown's album, he Spoke For The Masses and said, "I think I just can't stand his voice, sir." #YourMileageMayVary- dance in the water and not get wet.

My Favourite Album of 2016: Blond by Frank Ocean

~I can't believe anyone bothers to read all this~

I really stewed for a while about what my #AOTY was going to be. But based on play count and staying power alone, it has to be Blond.

I have to say, this album makes a terrible first impression. "Nikes" floats in with pitch-shifted vocals and without much to prove. It hangs around for a long five minutes without really going anywhere. The next track, "Ivy," pops in and walks through the speakers with no percussion whatsoever. By the time we hit the equally ambling "Pink + White," it's clear that Frank isn't in a hurry. I really didn't like it at first, I gotta say.

It wasn't until I perservered and gave it a few listens that the album really opened up to me. The way "Self Control" evolves from fireside crooning to ethereal hymn should be enough to make Justin Vernon give up and look for a job as a plumber,  and "Nights" perfectly captures somehow both a sense of apathy and stressed-out paranoia. Plus, unlike some other contemporaries, Frank can earnestly deliver lines like "did you call me from a seance, you are from my past life" without them sounding like terrible puns. At one point Andre 3000 delivers arguably the best verse of the year on "Solo (Reprise)."

It's not a perfect album- there are some terrible skits, but none of them are too long, and the songs more than make up for it. There's a real sense of mythology to uncover in the stories told on here, too. Much was made of Frank's coming out circa Channel Orange, and I do have to wonder if the title "Blond" was chosen due to it being one of the few words in english that desperately clings to gender.

Overall, Blond is a pastel-coloured daydream that's played through many of my Saturday afternoons this year. If you haven't given it a go, I heartily recommend.

Now, bring on 2017!

*I fact-checked this, but the history of wine is far too confusing for me to correct my outrageous and false claim

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