Before we review a bunch of stellar new records, let’s have a quick recap of the year: fireworks, hangover, Bowie dies. Frey dies. Prince dies. Vanity, George Martin, Merle, Prince Be, Alan Vega oh fuck it, who has time to listen to NEW music? Any why the rush to review it the week it comes out? Albums are not like movies. Movies provide 2 hours of entertainment and then we hit the food court and get on with our lives. Albums become part of our lives. At best, they help us better experience the highs and lows of being alive. At worst, they wind up in the used album bin.
And after listening to crates of classics for the past few months, I’ve reached the catharsis of tragedy. Life goes on as new artists and potential classics present themselves to heal the pain of lost legends. As shitty as 2016 has been for all the goodbyes, it has been one hell of a year for stirring hellos. So, here we go…
onDeadWaves is a new duo comprised of old favorites, James Chapman of Mercury Prize-nominated Maps and Polly Scattergood, whose last solo album, Arrows, landed at #6 on my 2013 list of the year’s best albums. onDeadWaves the band delivers equally massive and delicate songs. If ever there was a band who could deliver the ‘Rainbow in the Dark’ that Dio promised all those years ago, it’s onDeadWaves. onDeadWaves, the album, is a 39 minute fever dream of romantic shoegaze soaked in cinematic pop, breathless vocals, layered guitars, cascading electronics and plenty of running mascara; it will surely appeal to fans of Lykke Li, Beach House and the Ravonettes.
The third single, ‘California’, was directed by Groovy Chaos. Its one of those dizzying single-camera take shots that would make OKGO proud; it reminds me of all those years I was hustling screenplays in Hollywood, crashing parties and looking around desperately for the bathroom…
Prince “¢ HitnRun Phase Two
Long before his tragic death on April 21, Prince’s most significant album of the decade was tragically swept under the rug. Perhaps because:
- It was released exclusively on Tidal late in 2015 after most music critics had already published their year-end lists
- It was the sequel to one of the arguably weaker albums of his career
- It was not widely available on CD until after his death
- It uses the word “two” instead of Prince’s trademark numerology
Phase Two bares little connection to the safe and sanitized lite R&B songs on Phase One; it feels more like a victory lap through some of the strongest phases of his career. In light of subsequent tragedies in Baton Rouge and his hometown of Minneapolis, ‘Baltimore’ is all the more relevant and urgent today; beyond the lyrics, it’s simply a damn good pop song — and the album only gets better from there.
Among the many highlights of the album, ‘Xtraloveable’ is a modern take on the legendary, widely available, unreleased 7-minute track that was originally demoed in 1982 for the first Vanity 6 record. This version, also known as “Extraloveable Reloaded” drops the Andy Allo rap interlude from the first modern version that appeared online.
As with most modern things Prince, the track (not to mention every track from this record) is wiped clean from most streaming platforms that I can embed here, so while its around, enjoy the original:
Probably the fitting coda for Prince’s non-posthumous career can be heard in the song ‘Groovy Potential’, an absolutely gorgeous jazzy funk jam that reminds us of the decades of amazing new albums that now will never B. May we live 2 C the Vault.
Pick up Phase Two on CD, as it should B heard.
Ken Sharp “¢ New Mourning
Producer Fernando Perdomo is on a roll in 2016; he produced Cait Brennan’s Debutante (frontrunner for my 2016 album of the year) and he just wrapped co-producing Brennan’s sessions with Andy Paley at the request of Seymour Stein — you know, the Sire Records founder responsible for the bulk of real estate on most of our CD walls (the Ramones, the Smiths, Madonna, the Ocean Blue, Danielle Dax, Book of Love, Talking Heads, Echo & The Bunnymen… and let’s not forget Bigod 20).
Perdomo found the time to bring his magic touch to the first Ken Sharp album in nearly a decade. He calls the record “the feel-bad album of the year, but in a good way” but you’d never guess it the moment their wall of power pop melodies hit you. Sharp’s feminine alto adds to the luster and intrigue of this record (vocal androgyny also being a key factor on Brennan’s record and my other fave album of the year, Information by Eliot Sumner).
The melodies crackle throughout the 59-minute affair. Fans of Sweet, Cheap Trick, Rick Springfield, Marshall Crenshaw and Material Issue will find plenty to love here. Springfield — himself on a roll in 2016 with his latest, Rocket Science, contributes guitars to two of New Mourning‘s top tracks, ‘Burn and Crash’ and ‘Satellite’, the latter of which also gets Rick rolled with some heavenly harmonies:
and as an added bonus:
Fernando’s own album, Voyeurs, is out September 3 on bandcamp.
The timing of Prince’s death left a stack of early 2016 releases in the dust. Here are a few more records that deserve a bit more buzz before we head into a busy fall.
Nada Surf “¢ You Know Who You Are
20 years after their Ric Ocasek-produced debut, High/Low, blew of the roof off the 90’s with one big, big song after the other, Nada Surf recently returned to the power pop roots of that classic and its essential follow-up, The Proximity Effect. You Know Who You Are brings the band full circle marrying the best aspects of their high energy major label years with the more relaxed, low-fi, critical darling albums they’ve steadily released on Barsuk Records ever since. Get it here.
Band of Horses “¢ Why Are You OK
Over the past decade, Ben Birdwell’s constantly rotating band of brothers and sisters have consistently turned out dreamy, weird, harmonic, deftly melodic and entrancing albums. While there have been some standout singles from time to time, especially ‘Wicked Gil’ and ‘The Funeral’ off their debut Everything All The Time, that’s not really the draw of this band. Their latest on Interscope, ushers you back into their signature sublime and spellbinding world. Why mess with perfection? Get it here.
The Heavy “¢ The Hurt & Merciless
‘How You Like Me Now?’ and ‘Sixteen’ from The House That Dirt Built by The Heavy just might be the greatest one/two punch on any album this century. Indie rock infused with a stiff shot of Sam Cooke and the Dap Kings is the Heavy’s jam and their ascendance beyond the realm of one hit wonders is long overdue. Nada Surf overcame ‘Popular’ and I think The Heavy will shine beyond their megahit too. Best of all, the Bath, England band puts on legendary live shows on both sides of the pond. Get it on sale here.
Hotei “¢ Strangers
‘Battle Without Honor or Humanity’ by Tomoyasu Hotei from the Kill Bill Volume 1 soundtrack just might be the world’s most notorious one hook wonder. You might not know his name, but you these iconic opening chords. He’s gone on to sell more than 30 million records — just not a whole hell of a lot of them here. But that will hopefully change with his new album, Strangers.
Strangers is a compilation of English language singles that includes ‘How The Cookie Crumbles’ and ‘Walking Through The Night’, two of Iggy Pop’s best songs this decade; they serve as a triumphant encore to his 2016 sensation, Post Pop Depression, and his contributions to the last New Order record and the HBO Vinyl soundtrack.
Strangers is Hotei’s version of Santana’s Supernatural. If you dig the sound Hotei is laying down, the rest of Strangers will surprise and delight you at every turn. Shea Seger gets down and dirty on the stomper ‘Texas Groove’ while Noko (yes, Noko, not Nico) takes the entrancing, hypnotic, David Lynchian ‘Barrel of My Own Gun’ off into a psychedelic desert cold cold night. Hotei’s sinister guitar prowess ties the diverse musical styles of the guests into a cohesive whole. To stick the landing, he throws his biggest ‘Battle’ song into the mix as triumphant final track. Get the Deluxe Edition here.
The Struts “¢ Everybody Wants
Remember the days when rock stars were freaking rock stars? Glamorous, scuzzy, out of control, ambitious, decadent, outrageous and hell bent on conquering the world with stadium size, loud, melodic and dangerous rock songs? The Struts are Queen, The Darkness, the Wonder Stuff, Motley Crue, Suede, Sweet and Elastica all poured into one extra spicy molitov mojito. With Andrew WK primarily gigging as a public speaker and Guns n Roses on a nostalgia tour, who the hell else is going to step up and get the party re-started? Everybody Wants is epic, stupid, whip smart, crazy fun. Get it here.
Shoegaze is alive and thriving in 2016, with the return of Lush (a sterling box set and new EP), the 5-disc Still in a Dream: A Story of Shoegaze compilation from Cherry Red Records, and Minor Victories, a new super group comprised of members of Slowdive, Editors and Mogwai. As I was in purple mourning, this album was blazing with buzz from both Bret and Sarah at the must-read Life on This Planet blog and with the forever retro Slicing Up Eyeballs crowd on facebook. Trust them. Trust me. Get it here.
In a genius move of cross-platform fanbase synergistic marketing, Neko Case, k.d. lang and Laura Veirs got together and created a heartbreaking work of staggering beauty. Essential listening for fans of any one of these artists and the gateway drug into the catalogs of the other two.
Hopefully you caught em on tour because this appears to be a one-off wonder, and what a wonderful one it was. Get it here.
James “¢ Girl at the End of the World
I’ve been a fan of James way back to the early days. Usually they follow a classic like Laid with a more challenging work like Wah Wah, or Pleased to Meet You that followed the charming Millionaires. But here we are in 2016, ten years after what is possibly the shortest-lived break-up in rock history, with James following the epic La Petit Mort from two years ago with the equally entrancing Girl at the End of the World. Tim Booth’s vocals are in fine form, un-aged in prowess but steeped in wisdom and life lessons. The arrangements are tight and the production is world class. They are touring the shit out of this record, so see em while you can. Get the album here.
Lydia Loveless “¢
And finally, we end with something that is happening right now — this week — Lydia Loveless of Columbus, Ohio is having one of those zeitgeist moments with the release of Real, her fifth album and fourth on alt-country powerhouse Bloodshot Records. Bloodshot is long overdue for a trip down the aisle to marry an album to the upper reaches of the Billboard chart as most of their artists tend to do that after being lovingly nurtured and moving onto bigger indies and majors. Loveless and the label that loves her have steadily worked to build a fiercely loyal fanbase of critics, bloggers and music fans well beyond the boundaries of country and alt country. This week alone Loveless sang three songs on the CBS Early Show and has been celebrated on NPR, Rolling Stone, Spin and many more. In her AV Club review, Popdose contributor Annie Zaleski says “In the end, Real is a sucker punch of an album that finds Loveless reckoning with life’s vicissitudes with stubborn clarity.” Read her full review here. Get the album here. Pick up a free Lydia Loveless sampler on Noisetrade.
So what’s next?
Well the fall has a stack of new releases that I will be lucky enough to review by Christmas. de la soul and Blake Lewis drop new albums this week; Jack White has a acoustic compilation out in early September; POPDOSE favorite Sara Melson’s latest, Safe and Sound, is also out September 9th; and Shape Shift With Me, the long awaited follow-up to Transgender Dysphoria Blues by Against Me! drops a week later.