From hard as nails metal to timeless soul music by Beyonce’s little sister, it’s been a great year for new music. Here are my albums of 2016 (for what it’s worth).
You Will Never Be One Of Us
How can an album as short as this – clocking in at just 21 minutes – be so brutal and relentless? The Californian trio’s third album, which merges death metal and raging hardcore, is made up of 10 lethal songs that slice, dice and maim. Yet, like any metal album worth it’s weight in heaviness, songs like Savage Intolerance give way to grooves that make you feel bulletproof. It’s a scary visceral attack that’s as hard as, well, nails.
Watch You Will Never Be One Of Us here (hold onto your head)
A Seat At the Table
Beyonce may have released big budget extravaganza Lemonade, but her little sister released an angelic, angsty, and ambitious, yet beautifully refined soul record, that gets better with every play. And it’s been played a lot. Akin to Erykah Badu, Solange wends and winds her serenades through songs like single Cranes In The Sky, the sweet thumping swagger of Mad (with Lil Wayne) and the wiggy, head nodding boogie of Junie. Her songs may not have the butt shaking glamour of Beyonce, but who needs to dance when you make music with soul, style, and intrigue.
Watch Cranes In the Sky here
The New Zealand instrumental metal trio – named after a song by extreme music pioneers Godflesh – make music that is heavy and soothing all in one. There’s only one other band that does it as well and that’s fellow Kiwis Jakob. Mothra’s long-awaited debut is a beast that ebbs and flows with beauty and brutality. Heavy music is about summoning power and songs like Cataclysm (a merciless mangled beast) and Elements of Sleep (delicacy, grunt and power all in one) do just that.
Watch Splinters here
What One Becomes
For a metaller, Aaron Turner is an arty bugger. While his former band Isis was stunningly heavy, and at times beautifully tranquil, Sumac is seething, primal and unhinged. The slugging onslaught of Image of Control (II) is harrowing and testament to the deeply unnerving music Sumac make. On Clutch of Oblivion (Pts I & II) the songs disintegrate into a cacophonous maelstrom and 10 minute epic Blackout (I) is an art metal cocktail of bludgeoning brutality and brain rattling intensity.
Listen to Clutch of Oblivion here
NICK CAVE AND THE BAD SEEDS
While some of the songs on the Bad Seeds’ 16th album were written before the tragic death of Nick Cave’s son, it was always going to have a sense of heaviness and sadness attached to it. The first listen was hard to take – and tears were shed. Nick Cave has a knack of throwing your heart and soul on the rack every time an album comes out but Skeleton Tree was next level. Achingly sad and fragile, yet powerful, this album is a musical rarity that takes you to a higher, usually unattainable plain.
Watch Girl In Amber here
Let Them Eat Chaos
There’s a line from Ketamine For Breakfast that sums up spoken word artist Kate Tempest’s poetic prowess. “Through the hallway, ancient wall paper, nicotine gold, up the stairs rickety, loaded with history” she says. It’s one of the many catchy and dark lines on her second album – and it’s when Ketamine kicks in, with an agitating mix of synth and beats, that shows how stirring and powerful Let Them Eat Chaos can be. The same goes for Perfect Coffee, with dissonance giving way to melodic whimsy and deadpan mantras (“squats we used to party in are flats we can’t afford”), and Pictures on a Screen is heartbreaking and touching as it dials up 80s Stranger Things-style synth.
Watch Kate Tempest live here
A Moon Shaped Pool
A Radiohead album hadn’t grabbed me properly since Kid A, or perhaps Amnesiac. Although Lotus Flower was a wonderfully warped and dancey highlight of The King of Limbs. The thing is, I’d lost interest in Radiohead. But the ebbing strains of Burn the Witch was a riveting opener to their ninth album, and the song that hooked me back in. A Moon Shaped Pool had the musical mood swings and sonic exploration that define Radiohead – from the catchy and noisy pitter patter sing-a-long of Identikit, through to the probing and simmering centrepiece Ful Stop. Radiohead were well and truly back.
Watch Burn the Witch here
The Violent Sleep of Reason
Just another brute of an album from the Swedish metal overlords. For non-believers Meshuggah sound like a mangled and twisted wreck. Which is the whole point, because it’s hard work sounding like this, and no other band does. Even after eight albums it’s incomprehensible how they keep churning out this sort of scything sonic terror. The Violent Sleep of Reason is bound together by uncompromising heaviness and a willingness to see just how far a song can be pushed. It’s an album – with songs like Nostrum, a relentless mix of pathological beats and fiery frills – that leaves you feeling beaten, battered and bloody, but somehow, ready for more. Bring on the Powerstation (Auckland) show in March.
Listen to Nostrum here (play it loud and be sure to wait for the two minute mark)
This long running mix series has turned out some classics in its 20 year history – Kruder and Dorfmeister, Rockers Hi Fi, and Playgroup to name a handful. This year saw Detroit techno / house dude Moodymann let loose with a sprawling and soulful compilation of 30 tracks taking in everything from rebirth of cool jazz and thigh slapping disco house, through to some abrasive and darker beats (including NZ’s own Julien Dyne and Mara TK on Stained Glass Fresh Frozen) to make it gritty and intense. It’s a provocative dinner party compilation with a good dose of head nodding and finger tapping beats, but with some niggle and volatility for when the conversation turns.
Listen to Stained Glass Fresh Frozen here
There is much serenading amidst the hammering and savagery. The French behemoths are one of extreme music’s most grandiose bands but they never let the frills detract from the heaviness – like The Cell which morphs from a bruising stampede into a detuned massacre with a hand-on-heart croon. Then there’s Pray, a primal maelstrom with deathly chants, that’s like Sepultura’s Roots Bloody Roots done French style. But it’s the title track, a merciless mantra that never rises in tempo above a staunch walk, that proves the power of Gojira.
Watch Silvera here