January is supposed to be a month of new beginnings, but it felt like the tail-end of a bad dream. After sending off 2015 with the loss of a metal icon, we began the new year by losing one of the greatest performers the world has ever seen. But while that low note will likely be the lingering memory of January 2016, the month did hold many bright spots scattered among the blizzards; a sign that there are good things to come as we begin to awake from our hibernation. Maybe it’s time we start looking to the lunar new year for a fresh start.
The Best Album of January 2016
David Bowie, Blackstar (ISO Records)
Closing out a prolific career spanning over half a century in accomplished works that dabbled in a variety of styles, concepts, genre tropes, synthesizing together modern theses and antitheses in manners of provocation by way of performance, David Bowie could have rested high on his laurels and just released The Next Day 2 as the sunset epilogue to cap off his golden years. Instead the world was gifted Blackstar, the omega to the Ziggy Stardust paradigm’s alpha rife with enough cryptic allusions, meanings, multimedia presentations (those intense videos for the title track, “Lazarus”, an off-Broadway musical, etc) for new and old fans alike to pine over now and for years to follow.
Here are the rest of our favorites for January 2016, in no particular order.
Astronautica, Gemini (Alpha Pup)
Edrina Martinez came up in the beat scene as Astronautica, but that incubator did not ground her in a push-button stasis of pads and programs. With each release since the 2013 debut Replay Last Night, her work has strived towards an organic, live element. Someday automation might be stripped entirely from Astronautica’s music. Her latest full length,Gemini, intends to marry the studio with the stage while sharing her experience in love, loss, and forgiveness.
Linafornia, YUNG (Dome of Doom)
YUNG is the type of debut that feels like a lifetime of ideas at play. Her beat suites place her in the crate company of Dibia$e and Ras G, but Linafornia deviates on her debut in what feels like an autobiographical invitation. Maybe it’s the childhood photo album art? But,YUNG feels like Linafornia putting her life on record. A blip of a Jayo Felony vocal from“Watcha Gonna Do” on “hi shrimp” has history, like using your platform to shoutout your favorite cut from eighth grade. It’s a joke or a nod that only her day-ones will understand. For the rest of us, it’s a memory jog.
Florist, The Birds Outside Sang (Double Double Whammy)
The experience of trauma, whether mental or physical, often necessitates a creative outlet, and, for an artist, it’s often among their most raw and honest work. When Florist‘s Emily Sprague suffered a bike accident that left her hospitalized and debilitated, the bi-product was the writing and recording of their new record, The Birds Outside Sang. It’s the audible looming feeling of coming close to death, like the lead-up to a procession, only what follows is perhaps from the view of the casket, Sprague witnessing herself be put to rest. “I am weightless, I am bone, I am asphalt…”
G.A.Y.R., Greatest Hits EP
“If there’s nothing to give a fuck about, then make something worth giving a fuck about; something worth fucking with and about.”
That sentiment pervades the actual music on Gladiators, Are You Ready’s new EP, Greatest Hits. It’s two guitar-free songs of clanging punk that pivots between harmonious and messy. It’s gladiator music for a new kind of warrior–one determined to make the most of whatever time we have left on this dumb, spinning rock. G.A.Y.R. is brutal, catastrophic—the sound of one reality crumbling and another exploding into place.
Roly Porter, Third Law (Triangle)
Formerly one half of the duo Vex’d, Roly Porter breaks into the ancient testaments of governance and rules on his third LP, Third Law. “Free to explore ideas of rhythm, bass, sound design within his own world without having to shape any of these elements to fit preconceived ideas or rules,” Porter invites you to experience what it might be like to defy the matter and kinetic rhythms of time and “Known Space”.
Benny Boeldt, 8 of Cups (Carpark)
The latest from the artist formerly known as Adventure, 8 of Cups leaps further into frame to creates a fussy, glitchy assault of micro-samples. Literally 100s of samples rain down on this record. Largely compiled from VHS tapes, the songs on 8 of Cups demarcate a maturity in his songwriting as Boeldt barrages the remaining space with a glitched-out maelstrom. While the intensity and disquiet is dominant, 8 of Cups is not humorless. The vintage kitsch of sampling VHS and New Age CDs boosted from thrift stores homages a bygone Baltimore. Boeldt recognizes the turmoil, but embeds the record with a “not dead yet” dedication to the Wham-Whart era.
Halfsour, Tuesday Night Live (Jigsaw Records/Nebraskan Coast)
Rumored to have once been a Guided By Voices cover group; Boston, Massachusetts denizens of the DIY community halfsour follow-up their Reports 12-inch split EP from Ride The Snake with something that would inspire both Robert Pollard and the shamble-core crowd to tighten-up their own sound sets of sensitive slacker pop.
Sex Church, Flowers (Limited Appeal)
Vancouver outfit Sex Church performed a final show in August 2014. Apparently, that didn’t exclude the possibility of releasing new music. Enter Flowers, a new and presumably final full-length statement. Since most Sex Church songs feel somewhat funereal, consider this release a transmission from the other side.
Coldair, The Provider (Twelves Records/Sub Pop)
Warsaw, Poland’s Coldair is the operating moniker of Tobiasz Bilinski. While electronic modules and consoles factor in heavily in bringing the full realized Coldair vision to fruition, Tobiasz leaves his own vocals largely untouched to retain a real responsive and reactive narrative of impulse and effectd delivered like the transcript of an internal personal monologue. Spiritual musings like “Holy Soul” baptized by the electronic tributaries take rebellious routes like the synths in revolt on “Denounce”, going full circle on the self-mental-image projections that make up The Provider. The personal and big production approach of the album is one that requires a multitude of listenings to find new quips and notes that strike the heart and head in new ways each time.
Saul Williams, MartyrLoserKing (Fader)
MartyrLoserKing is the story of a hacktivist in Burundi. Here, Saul demands a hacking of dietary sustenance, the rebellious gene, desperation, land rights, faith and morality, the treatment of one faith towards another, sexuality, and god. “Hack into the subconscious, hack into violence and fear,” he intones. There is a correlation he’s drawing across the album that ties hacking to being woke and the criminalization of enlightenment. It’s all delivered across future primitive production that sounds the drums of rebellion into the cyber mainframe of a deep web militia in wait.
Behavior, 375 Images of Angels (Iron Lung)
On 375 Images of Angels, Los Angeles trio Behavior seem out to investigate how much tinkering punk’s musical conventions can withstand, though without capitulating to the codified inclinations grouped as post-punk. Opener “Dry Swift Horse” begins with a drum vamp evocative of Todd Trainer’s errant thwacks on Shellac tracks such as “The End of Radio“, and, beyond the familiar surge and churn of “78” and “–“, the instrumental “North” is all harmonic clang and spare percussion. “For Contempt”, meanwhile, begins like a Rolling Stones ballad and ends like a factory. Behavior are a trio and 375 Images of Angels sounds like it, capturing the distinct tones and performances of three players in a room, with minimal perceptible overdubs, whose inquisitive faculties are bound to alienate segments of their traditional punk audience.
Satan Wriders/Wimps, Bubble Guts (Harlot Records)
Bringing the California and Washington scenes a little closer together, Stockton’s Satan Wriders and Seattle’s Wimps released a limited edition cassette split to showcase their mutual appreciation of one other’s music. Featuring some of the best singles from both groups, the Bubble Guts split is where the true honest, weird, and beguiling wonders of west coast garage pop is heard at peak proliferation.
Gag, America’s Greatest Hits (Iron Lung)
“HA HA HA, BLAH BLAH BLAH, EITHER WAY YOU DIE.” Gag’s lyrics from 2013’s 40 Oz. Rule ’90 7-inch are utterly inscrutable. Zero debate ensues; it’s a bit of macabre truth. Hardcore’s formal concision lends itself to that sort of binary thinking. The trouble is finding something infallible that fits in a few syllables. That’s where Gag excels. In that song as on “Pretty Boy”—the first track shared from a compilation due via Iron Lung Records, aptly entitled America’s Greatest Hits—there’s a sturdy riff and a muscular backbeat, struggling through a recording saturated with noxious fumes. The band cackles anyhow.
Gag opts for laughs.
Washer, Here Comes Washer (Exploding In Sound)
Here Comes Washer plays like a best-of of sorts, never compromising to one sound. Unlike past releases where noise was a key element, Washer has utilized their two-man persona to deliver a more nuanced brand of their pop-punk. Often stripped of distortion, an air of millenial shoegazing strings throughout the LP, creating an unnerving tension that rides shotgun to the aggression. All while keeping that foot firmly planted in pop. Washer’s not here to cheer you up, they just want you to sing along to their tongue-in-cheek confessionals.
Pop. 1280, Paradise (Sacred Bones)
Paradise thematically hinges on the troubling confluence of technology, surveillance, and commerce, along with humans’ everyday complicity in the pervasive axis of power. And yet, it is also the outfit’s most thoroughly produced and electronically augmented album to date. Deeply political as the content may be, Chris Bug’s anguished lament about the titular structural anomalies also underscores Pop. 1280’s unabashedly stylized goth inclinations. Indeed, the doomsday scenario in which all quite happily and wittingly participate is perfectly dramatic fodder for Pop. 1280.
Big Boss, Demo’s
Harsh and strident, this short and furious hardcore anthem by Siberian one-woman project Big Boss channels the best of Japanese noisecore-style song structure and recording and heavy NYHC-style riffs (an Outburst cover finishes out the short but essential demo) and adds lyrics about persistence at the very point where one feels one has no strength left, a necessary flip of the script to macho hardcore tropes that brag on a constant (and often puffed-up) display of strength.
Udusic, Udusic 7-inch (Painkiller Records)
Punk is not just a young person’s game, though so much of its filth and forthrightness can seem juvenile, and it can be such a saving grace for young people. Yet there are those of us who have figured out how to take its power and grow up with it (but not out of it) while refusing the Peter Pan syndrome that affects many of our compatriots. Sarah Ryczek and her bandmates are more than enough proof that it’s possible: their debut 7-inch is a snarling, muscular 10 minutes of well-channeled, distinct rage that never forgets the value of a riff or of the necessity of a thunderous rhythm section to hardcore execution.
Eleanor Friedberger, New View (Frenchkiss)
New View is an impeccably breezy full-length, bearing a 1970s-informed smoothness that’s undercut and distinguished by Eleanor Friedberger’s capacity for subtly bitter inflection and the vulnerable sort of hope. A more settled album, seemingly written at a greater distance from Friedberger’s subjects, New View nevertheless registers as her most emotive statement yet.