Since I launched this blog in March, I have tried to write about as many wonderful things as I can, in essays, the podcast, and every Friday in the New Release Roundup. Try as I might, I can’t write about all the good stuff coming out. This will be my annual attempt to correct that. For the next ten days, I’ll be highlighting albums I missed in 2016. To cast an even wider net, I’ve enlisted some talented friends to write about some of their favorites this year.
1. Matt Minigell on Guided By Voices – Please Be Honest
Guided By Voices’ Please Be Honest is this year’s fiery objection to the idea that Rock-n-Roll has lost its way. The record wastes no time getting off the ground with “My Zodiac Companion,” and by the time the first chorus hits, it becomes fairly apparent that Robert Pollard, in all of his fifty-nine years, has once again positioned himself squarely in the center of the Indie Rock firmament as an honest-to-god rock star, whipping minute-long thunderbolts down from on High amidst a deluge of guitars, basses, drums, synthesizers, and howling vocals that would make Daltrey blush. This is the kind of record that makes people make records. Tracks of note include “My Zodiac Companion,” “Glittering Parliaments,” and the tender “Defeatist’s Lament.”
2. Brendan Boogie on Abbie Barrett – That Shame
This is a record with balls. Furthermore, there is also quite a bit of hair on said aforementioned balls. While her last few albums found Barrett playing with genre and exploring the sonic boundaries of the studio setting, That Shame is her best effort to date at closely capturing the blistering live show with which she and her top notch band have been humping faces of Boston audiences for years. The magic of both the live shows and the album rest in the effortless interplay between Barrett’s cooler-than-you vocal floating on top of Mike Oram’s ferocious classic rock-inspired guitar. The first three tracks – “Take It In Stride,” “That Shame,” and “Get Up & Go” – come roaring out of the gate with a cocksure boldness that would make AC/DC bang their heads in solidarity. In short – if you like rock and roll records, Abbie’s got a rock and roll record for you. Highlight: the soulful “Everything.”
Brendan Boogie is a musician and filmmaker living in Boston. His latest album with Brendan Boogie and the Broken Gates is Last Words. He is currently working on his next independent feature film, Sundown. You can also listen to him on the Department of Tangents Podcast here.
3. Marian Kent on David Bowie – Blackstar
“Giving Everything Away”
to pick a favorite
when swaddled with loss
tucked in penitence
you’re a rock star
but your eyes
earned with senescence
you queue up Blackstar
and all is forgiven
in a rush
of empyreal foreboding
It gets dark early
in listmaking season
turns out our heroes
are not immortal after all
Marian Kent writes poems and other missives in western Massachusetts, where she lives with her family. Read more at www.runawaysentence.com
4. Michael J. Epstein and Sophia Cacciola on Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree / One More Time with Feeling
With each album release, Nick Cave has been gradually aging into life as a tremendously powerful, ethereal, downtempo songwriter. Skeleton Tree was mid-production when Cave’s son Arthur tragically died. As a result, the songs fell deeper into their own wells of compassionate despair. The companion film, One More Time with Feeling, presents the conflict of creation and loss, the abysmal grief and the catharsis of beauty at its truest. The film’s post-modern title notes the artificiality of capturing the reality of the desolation, the impossible compromise of guilt and a desire to heal. The pair of works are the ultimate meditations on pain exceeding reason and expression. They are a personal manifestation of existential unfairness mapped onto an inherent injustice for lost voices a la Jean-François Lyotard‘s Le Différend.
Michael J. Epstein and Sophia Cacciola are musicians and filmmakers based on Los Angeles. Their latest film is Blood of the Tribades, and their latest EP as Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling is In the Village.
5. Matt Lerner on Train – Train Does Led Zeppelin II
The musicians in Train have shown countless times on “The Howard Stern Show” that no cover song is too difficult to replicate live. So it was no surprise when the band released an album of covers this past June. The surprise is that Train chose to cover Led Zeppelin’s Led Zeppelin II in its entirety and a record company released it. There isn’t a bad song on Led Zeppelin II; in fact, each song is iconic. Train doesn’t put its spin on any of the songs. They are extremely close to the songs on the original album, including the break in “Whole Lotta Love.” Cover bands are my guilty pleasure, so the closer a cover band can come to the original the better. And Train’s ability to replicate the sound and energy of Led Zeppelin to is what I love about this album. For most, however, Train’s new release will beg the question: Why? The prime motivation might be that all profits from the sales of the album will go to the San Francisco-based charity, Family House. Nevertheless this release might remind you of Gus Van Sant’s shot-for-shot, full color remake of Psycho. For the same reasons that you passed on the remake, it’s likely you will pass on buying Train’s cover album. The musicianship of Train’s remake is worth more than a couple of listens. However, when you have the urge to hear “Ramble On” or “What Is and What Should Never Be,” for example, I’m betting you turn to Led Zeppelin II.
Matt Lerner is a writer based in Albany, N.Y. A certain amount of year ago, he helped give a certain Tangent-loving writer his start in music criticism at University at Buffalo‘s Generation magazine.
6. Justin Behan on Tycho – Epoch
As I’ve been dragging myself from the curb and on to the highway of creative writing over the last two years, I have been in pursuit of music that will inspire me as I write. This is a tricky endeavor, as the music choice can’t be too distracting or overly sedate. Tycho, a music project led by Scott Hansen, has been like a blast of sunlight from the heavens. Tycho has a handful of albums on the market, the latest of which is their 2016 release, Epoch. It’s all instrumental. No voice work. Epoch is a masterpiece of funk, dance, and atmosphere. It is the perfect melding of beats, synth, and real instrumentation. The true genius of Hansen’s work is how it folds into multiple daily conditions you might find yourself under. The same songs can get you dancing, be a compliment to meditation, or become seamless background to whatever work project you are taking on. It all depends on where you want to meet Tycho. You set the parameters and Epoch enhances the occasion.