Slouching towards – no, not Bethlehem – the end of the year, some may find themselves in a gentle repose awash in the glow of the year’s merciful bounty…
I am not one of those people. If your feelings run similar, please join me in bidding 2016 a hearty “Fuck you and the horse you rode in on.” while setting it alight on a pyre of Donald Trump suits and ties, all made in China.
But then there was the music and, fortunately, there is always the music and thank every God, Goddess and overlooked Muse for that fact. This is not a “BEST OF” because, well, do you really need another since everyone and their grandmother has crafted one and they all tend to boast many of the same names and products? You’ll find no odes to Rihanna, Drake or Beyoncé here; please see Rolling Stone or Billboard for such. Please see here if you’re curious about what you may have missed amid the noise. Hence, my annual 5 Albums You May Have Missed…which turned into 10 this time. Sorry about that.
How To Dress Well – Care
It’s entirely possible that I may have reached the point where – to my ear – Tom Krell aka How To Dress Well can do no wrong – save for him lapsing into an unfortunate instance of EDM which, in that case, I’m totally breaking up with him. This year Krell found a way to make his moody, fractured, electronic alt R&B which – more often than not reeks with uncomfortable intimacy – pop. Literally. Krell swung for the fences and his listeners’ hearts with Care enlisting the likes of Jack Antonof, CFCF and others to build a poppier sonic frame around his world making it his brightest/most hopeful sounding record yet, even as he still brings the pain. And the love. And the screw ups. And the regrets. And the sex. And more love.
Essentials: “Can’t You Tell,” “What’s Up,” “Lost Youth/Lost You,” “The Ruins,”
The Virginmarys – Divides
Listening to Divides by The Virginmarys while behind the wheel of a car may be hazardous to your driving record. I believe this to the bone so much that I made it a point of telling the band so directly because Divides is the adrenalin-filled beautiful sound of British rockers tuned in, turned on and raging against every machine and this was BEFORE Brexit. Where their debut album, King of Conflict, was an exciting rough draft of intentions, Divides tightens up the songwriting, the song structures and the conversation, which tackles societal ills and struggles, yet reaches for a hand of hope. Yes, the album opens with “Push The Pedal” and when you find yourself doing just that, pounding the steering wheel and trying to emulate Ally Dickaty’s primal scream, don’t say you weren’t warned.
Essentials: “For You My Love,” “I Wanna Take You Home,” “Walk In My Shoes,” “ Free To Do Whatever They Say”
Madaila – Traces
If there is one album that caught me fully off guard, it’s Traces. These guys. Vermont. Madaila. This record. Can still barely deal…ughh. Traces.
Essentials: The whole damned album.
Dylan LeBlanc – Cautionary Tale
The son of a Muscle Shoals session player and the state of Louisiana, Dylan LeBlanc treks through his own personal mire and shines a hazy light on the beauty in what’s broken. Produced by John Paul White (ex-The Civil Wars) and Ben Tanner (Alabama Shakes), Cautionary Tale is the product of LeBlanc’s own self-inflicted crisis and plays out like a warm midnight train ride through the South; brilliant in its darkness and heavy with introspect. LeBlanc sings his Americana Southern blues with the voice of a born storyteller that rings the notes of a Jim James/Neil Young hybrid and a reticent troubadour. As gorgeous as it is haunting, as lush as it is vulnerable, songs like “Man Like Me” and “Beyond The Veil” show his songwriting craft elevated and LeBlanc elegantly staging his demons for consumption.
Essentials: “Cautionary Tale,” “Beyond The Veil,” “Look How Far We’ve Come”
Allan Rayman – Hotel Allan
Other than the fact that he has a pleasant face, is from Wyoming and now resides in Toronto, there isn’t much that I can tell you about the guy; apparently he likes it that way. Prefers to eschew today’s information/social media age norms and let his music and occasional visual aides do the talking, you say? I’d say so because nothing else is and that’s just fine. For now. With an album like Hotel Allan, eventually dude’s going to have to acknowledge how righteous it is. Like The Weeknd, the seams meet at R&B with a hip-hop fluidity but sans the mimicry, so dust off those roller skates and bump “Beverly” like it’s 1983. If deflection truly is an art form, then Rayman is a modern day Picasso.
And, of course, he sees fit to sprinkle random non-album tracks about to keep things funky. So what if the first 30 seconds of “25.22” consists of nothing but echoing guitar and it’s another full minute before THAT BEAT drops. Dude.
Essentials: “Beverly,” Tennessee,” “Graceland,” “27”
Los Angeles Locals:
The Dead Ships – Citycide
If the rough of Devlin McCluskey’s agitation that runs through Citycide doesn’t make you want to rail against the banalities of adulthood, you just may be part of the problem. The honesty of Los Angeles living (and dying) gets filtered though this trio’s audible lens and it’s the hardest that their punked-up garage rock has ever hit.
Essentials: “Floorboards,” “Seance,” “Company Line,” “Big Quiet”
Dorothy – Rock Is Dead
“Here’s an album that consists of 11 songs that – if whiskey had an audible presence – would bear a striking resemblance to that 7-year old bottle of Jameson buried beneath the file folders in your desk. Three songs into ROCKISDEAD and Dorothy Martin and her crew…unleash a gutsy battle cry fully layered in a filthy sheen of danger, decadence and good times of the most unsanctified kind with “Raise Hell.” Raise a little or raise a lot, but do raise a glass to a new crew of unabashed torchbearers of rock. Raise that glass to Dorothy.”
Essentials: “Raise Hell,” “After Midnight,” “Wicked Ones,” “Shelter”
The Record Company – Give It Back To You
At some point I’m going to run out of fresh and witty ways to praise The Record Company and their debut album, Give It Back To You so I’ll just refer to my 10 Artists To Watch In 2016 entry.
And a pleasure it was, as The Record Company prove keen disciples of honoring the old school and yet are finely adept at freshening it up and serving it new with hearty rock and soul. Oh look, the album received a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Blues Album. Yep.
Essentials: “On The Move,” Don’t Let Me Get Lonely,”This Crooked City,” “Feels So Good”
The British Are Coming
Broken Hands – Turbulence
You simply cannot overlook the amount of punch – experimental and straightforward – that Canterbury’s Broken Hands pack into their debut record, Turbulence. Combining thunderous percussion with cutting and effected guitars to create an atmosphere of anthemic and spacey prog rock that doesn’t collapse under its own weight, Broken Hands shine by flying loose and letting their ambitions out to play. Loudly. Yes, “Spectrum” momentarily channels Led Zepplin and “Who Sent You” feels like the Kasabian that we all know and love but there’s no foul on that. “Meteor” and “Turbulence” will remind you who you’re dealing with.
Essentials: “Spectrum,” Who Sent You,” “Turbulence,” Meteor”
Syd Athur – Apricity
The somewhat cosmic-sounding rock continues with the UK’s Syd Arthur and I can’t help the fact that the quartet is also from Canterbury. Here they are with their song “Sun Rays” as our Video Of The Week back in July and the beauty of Apricity is its trippy glides and shifts as the band sees fit. “Plane Crash In Kansas” and “No Peace” show off Syd Arthur’s natural feel for weaving jazz grooves through the fabric of their songs and why they continue to be solid bearers of rock that actually feels…progressive.
Essentials: “No Peace,” “Plane Crash In Kansas,” “Rebel Lands”