2016 was on some bullshit, man. I didn’t dedicate a lot of time to the blog because shit just kept happening. I kept running into car related money problems. My personal life kept finding new and exciting ways to be terrible. And everything really kind of stopped after my dad died back in May.
I’m still trying to figure out how much longer I’m going to keep doing things here. I’m leaning more toward keeping up than I was back in October. I guess we’ll see where it all goes in the coming months. Anyway, here are my top 25 favorite records of 2016 in alphabetical order:
- Angel Olsen – “My Woman”
- Colleen Green – “Colleen Green”
- Computer Magic – “Obscure But Visible”
- Dowsing – “Okay”
- Flock Of Dimes – “If You See Me, Say Yes”
- Fucko – “Dealing With The Weird”
- Frankie Cosmos – “Next Thing”
- Haybaby – “Blood Harvest”
- The Hotelier – “Goodness”
- Japanese Breakfast – “Psychopomp”
- Kindling – “Everywhere Else”
- Kowabunga! Kid – “Wasting My Time”
- Magik*Magik – “MAGIK*MAGIK”
- Middle Part – “Middle Part”
- Miserable – “Uncontrollable”
- Mitski – “Puberty 2”
- Museum Mouth – “Popcorn Fish Guinea Pig”
- Nancy Pants – “Vol. 27 EP”
- Orations – “Incantation”
- Psychic Twin – “Strange Diary”
- Sad Blood – “Legion Of Gloom”
- Save Ends – “Hug Your Friends”
- Signals Midwest – “At This Age”
- Slingshot Dakota – “Break”
- Slow Bloom – “Slow Bloom”
That’s the list. Yes, I know there are some high profile releases that I didn’t include. Most glaringly, I passed on the American Football record and the Jimmy Eat World record. I know I’m supposed to love those records, but I really didn’t.
In the immortal words of the Wu-Tang Clan: if you want beef, then bring the ruckus.
Kristina Esfandiari has been responsible for some of my favorite music this year. She just released an EP earlier this year, Halloween Dream, as Miserable. Now, as King Woman, we have the Dove / Fond Affections cassette single. It’s her second release under the King Woman moniker. It really reinforces the idea that she is a wellspring of creativity. While she is still best known from her days in Whirr, it’s her solo material that is really worth noting. It is going to be interesting, no matter what it’s released as. She is able to conceptualize music in a way that goes beyond most shoegaze/post-punk/post-rock/whatever. If those genres are built around creating moods in a non-conventional way, then she is one of the best out there right now.
There are a lot of similarities between King Woman and Miserable. This isn’t surprising considering the nature of the projects. Both have very drawn out, ethereal vocals. Both deal heavily in effects and non-traditional music. But, and this is very important, the overall way those pieces fit is very different. Miserable took a more traditional shoegaze sound and beefed it up by including some very dense, heavy music. King Woman deals more in ethereal psychedelia, with some post-punk and psych-folk added for flavor.
There are two songs on the new single. One is an original, one is a cover. The A-side, Dove, spans 15 minutes. It adds a new dimension to what King Woman does. It is a drawn out, slow-burn of a song. It feels more similar to her work as Miserable than it does her earlier King Woman songs. It is expansive and atmospheric. It never gets as dense as Miserable did, but it maintains some of the power. It’s a hauntingly beautiful song.
The B-side is a cover of Rema-Rema’s “Fond Affections.” The King Woman version that appears here is closer to the cover This Mortal Coil did than it is to the original (kind of). It’s a hell of a cover though. While remaining pretty true to the post-punk origins of it, this particular cover is has more a drone influence. It’s moody and engaging in all the best ways.
In fact, “engaging in all the best ways” is a great way to sum up this release as a whole. It is a must listen for anyone who likes their music ambient, unconventional, and experimental. Grab this while you can.**
The Native Sound
**As a result of being out on The Native Sound, this is a very limited release if you want it on a physical format. In this case, it’s a cassette with a limited run of 150. If that is something you’re interesting in, better act fast. Otherwise, you’re going to have to get it digitally.**
The first thing I noticed about Halloween Dream is how much beauty and soul there is on the record. While Kristina Esfandari is constantly getting the ex-Whirr tag, her solo material is strong enough to kill that talking point. As a solo artist, as Miserable, she’s made one of the most engaging records I’ve heard in quite some time.
Halloween Dream is record that shows how “atmospheric” doesn’t always mean “light.” Esfandari’s ethereal vocals weave beautifully in and out of reverb heavy, distorted music. When playing this type of music, it’s easy to use the production as a crutch. The denseness can cover up songwriting deficiencies, the reverb, delays, and distortion can make boring music sound less boring. That’s why it’s great when you hear it done right.
It’s easy to get lost in the music. It’s easy to put a record like this on, and just let it take over. One of my favorite parts of the record is how, even without actively listening to the lyrics, you can tell exactly what is going on. Esfandari projects so much with just her vocal delivery. You can hear the emotion, desire, and regret in these songs.
I feel bad calling this just an “insert whatever genre” record. To call it just one thing or another feels too narrow. It can be ambient and melodic in one part, then fucking heavy and dense in another. If I had to call it something, I’m not sure what i’d say. Metallic shoegaze with post-rock flair? Sure, why the fuck not? It’s beautiful.
The Native Sound