We’re just past the halfway point of the year, and I wanted to share which releases I feel are frontrunners for my year end list. As well, this way people can be be enjoying some things throughout the year, rather than spending December/January trying to catch up on everything they’ve missed.
10. Animal Collective – The Painters [EP]
Neo-Psychedelia / Psychedelic Pop
It’s hard to believe that these were the b-sides that were left off of Painting With, as this is honestly much better than the album. Avey & Panda’s vocals on Kinda Bonkers are remarkably good, and a return to form. Peacemaker and Goalkeeper are both solid, and their Jimmy Mack cover will stick around in my rotation for years.
9. Wicca Phase Springs Eternal – Stop Torturing Me [EP]
Emo Trap / Sad Rap
Former Tigers Jaw vocalist, Adam McIlwee, decided to give the blossoming new Emo/Rap hybrid genre a go. This kind of stuff is getting a fair amount of hate right now, but like any genre – there’s the good (Bones), the bad (Lil Peep), and the ones that could be either, depending who you ask (Yung Lean). Wicca is certainly one of the good ones, and possibly the very best. In its most established form, Emo Trap is very Bones-core, meaning melancholic atmosphere laden guitars, introspective rapping, a trap beat, and cloud rap atmospheres. That’s exactly what you’re getting here, but where Bones’ often has that deep deadpan delivery and all too infrequent screamed sections, Wicca opts for mopey crooning. Occasionally you can even hear little hints of his old Tigers Jaw melodies coming through. It’s still far from perfect, but this might be one of the releases that gives some credence to this scene.
8. Blanck Mass – World Eater
Electro-Industrial / IDM / Power Noise / UK Bass
Great stuff from him once again. The last album had more amazing highs, but also a few tracks that felt weaker at first and took a while to grow on me. This one feels a more consistent overall. One complaint I have is that for all the hints of harsher sounds, they’re somewhat restrained. I wish he’d bring those bits of noise even harder during a climax. But his strength is in incorporating very subtle influences of other genres (vaporwave, trap, and witch house to name a few), which is a treat for keen listeners.
7. Arca – Arca
Art Pop / Glitch Pop / Ambient Pop / Post-Industrial / IDM / Latin Electronic
It’s really hard for me to talk about an Arca album and sound positive, which may seem weird considering the high position this is sitting at (as was Mutant in 2015). I guess I keep thinking Alejandro Ghersi has a 10/10 album in his future, and the opening few tracks always trick me into thinking this will be the one. Arca opens with the staggeringly brilliant Piel, but alas, just like Mutant, the album rapidly declines into a steep falloff of half finished ideas.
Despite that, I still really like Arca’s music. It’s extremely intimate and personal, even during voiceless sections. He has an absolute gift for production. He makes uncompromising choices with cultural elements, gender non-conformity, aesthetic, and sound design, all while feeling like the future of electronic music. With songs like Piel and the first four tracks on Mutant, it’s clear the talent is there. Now we just need to get an album that’s full of those, not one that’s kept afloat by them.
Also, this is by far the best album art of the year so far.
6. Mount Eerie – A Crow Looked at Me
Indie Folk / Slowcore
What is there to say about this beyond ‘it’s heartbreaking and incredibly raw’? For anyone reading this who’s unaware of the story behind this album – Geneviève Castrée, the wife of Phil Elverum/Mount Eerie, just passed away shortly after their first child was born. This album is an incredibly personal set of songs written to help Phil process and cope with this tragedy. It’s a difficult to listen to say the least. On my first attempt I had to cut it short because it was destroying me and I was at work, and it took several tries before I was able to even get to the end.
5. Planning for Burial – Below the House
Gloom / Doomgaze / Atmospheric Sludge / Blackened Slowcore / Post-Rock / Ambient / Drone Metal
Solo artist Thomas Wasluck moved back to his hometown, and then returned to us with Below the House. This is an incredibly bleak insight into the complicated feelings of growing up, and no longer ever feeling home. As drab and dreary as this is, there’s an undeniable beauty buried beneath all the haze. Reconnecting with the people of his past, he mutters “I recognize your smile as a distant reminder, this ever fading memory of who we once were. You’re still here… though you’re losing your glow.” I get a thick knot in my throat listening these maudlin acceptances, and all I can do is lie down and contemplate how fucking miserable life is.
Sonically Below the House is a somber ensemble of a piano faintly twinkling like snowfall in the night, a funeral dirge on bass, plodding guitars, droning electric hums, and the occasional shriek of feedback. Everything comes together very well. Planning For Burial is one of the few acts creating a type of music that deserves its own genre name: Gloom. Though myself and others have been using this neologism for years to describe him, Have a Nice Life, and a few other like minded artists, it doesn’t quite have enough bands or traction to take off just yet.
Below the House has a striking resemblance to his first album, Leaving, perhaps even thematically. Leaving is one of my all time favourites, and my AOTY in 2009 (although it was later usurped by Hospice when I finally got around to hearing it in 2010). This has a very similar vibe, and even tries to capture some of the same things that made his debut so great. ‘Dull Knife Pt. 2’ almost parallels Leaving’s centrepiece, ‘Being a Teenager and the Awkwardness of Backseat Sex’, but falls just short. Truth be told, the overall quality of this release is a step down from Leaving, but not a dramatically large one, and I’d rank it second best in his catalogue.
4. Pallbearer – Heartless
Doom Metal / Traditional Doom / Progressive Metal
This band is super consistent. Despite this album being a slight deviation in style from their previous two, it’s still great. The pace has more variation than just straight-up doom, and there’s still some sections with soaring solos and more traditional doom vocals. The last track, A Plea For Understanding, is among the best they’ve written and has moments that remind me of modern genre heavyweights Warning. I wouldn’t dare give such a huge compliment lightly – and it must be said that Pat Walker’s lyrics and delivery are still much, much better. Admittedly the first listen didn’t blow me away, but it’s a real grower, and it definitely scratches the itch for this brand of misery.
3. Geotic – Abysma
Microhouse / Downtempo / Ambient
One of my music obsessions, Will Wiesenfeld of Baths, is back with a new release from Geotic, his more ambient oriented side project. Previous Geotic albums are very minimalist and bare, with a focus purely on gentle beauty (and sometimes a specific instrument for a whole album). While this sort of fits with the rest, it has so much going on it’s actually somewhere between his two styles. There’s very stripped down beats, all expertly produced. The side-chain on the kick drums punch right through the cozy ambient hums, and sparse bits of his falsetto vocalization makes tracks feel like songs rather than a backdrop. Abysma is a brighter and more hopeful side of Will, especially in contrast to his near death experience and resulting landmark album, Obsidian. The cover art almost perfectly captures the tone of the album: being blasted by sunlight in a clean minimal room of polished textures and structure. Even the figure on the floor seems to describe Will perfectly as a brightly colourful yet lethargic and maudlin person. It’s really great music to just get lost in, and I can’t wait to lie on the grass this summer and listen to this.
2. Archivist – Construct
Post-Metal / Post-Black Metal / Post-Hardcore / Post-Rock / Neocrust
This is incredible, as is basically any Alex CF band. I may be fanboying at this point, but it’s seriously all so good.
Construct is not just one concept album, but part of a continuing story that spans their entire discography, like Alex’s old band, Fall of Efrafa. Archivist follows the sole survivor of a distant future earth. While escaping an environmental apocalypse on earth, a malfunction on the interstellar ark left her the sole survivor of the conscious crew. She now drifts through the emptiness of space conflicted with the sudden significance of her task and the insignificance of our species. This is the finality of isolation and introspection.
As for the music itself, post-metal sums it up for the most part, but to leave it at that would be a disservice to all the influences carefully woven together. The core sound fairly blackgazey, being mostly blast beats and tremolo picking, soaring melodic guitars, and dual vocals (Anna’s a throat rending crust style, Alex’s a hoarse shout). There’s frequent interludes with clean vocals that the lyrics annotate are narrative moments, distinct from the harsher passages. Truth be told, the quieter moments can feel a little bit like stock post-rock, but that’s a fairly minor qualm all things considered.
This degree of ambition earns major points in my books, and the good vastly outweighs the bad. It could probably have benefited by some editing down in both length and content perhaps, as the last four tracks definitely lose some steam… but for our protagonist there’s nothing left but time to think, so what’s the rush?
1. Ostraca – Last
Emoviolence / Skramz / Post-Metal
I’m so impressed by this, I just want to gush about it. Ostraca effortlessly glide between all out assaults of chaotic emoviolence, desperate collapses, and bombastic crescendos. There’s mathy guitars, some very tasteful breakdowns, and even gorgeous ambient sections. The range here is huge, but it never once feels contrived. Everything is the right length, be it the pummelling climaxes, the lush mid album reprieve, or the overall runtime. The vocal performances are top notch, staying mostly in the skramz style, but sometimes dropping all the way down to a death bellow. Lyrically there’s not much in the way of lights at the end of the tunnel, just bitter acceptance and criticisms of our collective failures. And finally, the drummer makes frequent use of blast beats all over the record, which is absolutely what I’m looking for from bands in this scene.
Everything about Last is so damn great, and it’s not even that complicated or inventive – just very well executed. I’ve listened to this dozens of times already and would be hard pressed to point out many flaws. This is easily one of the best things to come out of this genre in ages, and is a serious AOTY contender.