One year ago, David Bowie passed away, much to the surprise and sorrow of the music world. To mark the anniversary of his death, we will celebrate his acclaimed, visionary German recording trifecta of the late ‘70s. Special narrative cameos: Brian Eno and Robert Fripp (both pictured above, with Bowie), Tony Visconti, Philip Glass, Marianne Faithfull, and Scott Walker.
BY ROBERT DEAN LURIE
Ed. note: The following is an excerpt from the short book We Can Be Heroes: The Radical Individualism of David Bowie (published in June, 2016, Liberty Island Media). Full details at Amazon.com.
In the late 1970’s, David Bowie released a trio of albums that continue to be regarded by many critics as the defining statement of his career, the so-called “Berlin Trilogy” of Low, “Heroes,” and Lodger, recorded in 1976, 1977, and 1978, respectively. The first two albums in particular convey the aural impression of stained glass that has been smashed and then carefully, though incorrectly, reassembled. Everything is a bit “off”: Choruses arrive late or not at all; certain songs offer the promise of a dramatic build but then end without warning; in many cases, the expected vocals never appear, leaving the music to churn and bubble and glide along into a hazy sunset.
There is very little in the way of Nietzschean triumphalism on these albums. Instead, uncertainty predominates—perhaps most strikingly in the song “Always Crashing in the Same Car” (from Low), which, while lyrically inscrutable, conveys unmistakable feelings of lucklessness and inertia.
In such an atmosphere of doubt and brokenness, the song “Heroes,” which is arguably Bowie’s most mature distillation of his individualistic philosophy, stands in stark relief, its narrative coherence almost a rejoinder to the surrounding cut-ups. “Heroes” contains its share of obstacles both internal and external. Not only does the narrator “drink all the time,” but he has to keep his love affair alive in a war-torn land in which “guns [are] shot above our heads” and a wall arbitrarily divides the population—a clear nod to the divided Berlin in which Bowie lived at the time of the song’s composition. The song seems to echo the doomed love affair between Winston and Julia, the protagonists of Nineteen Eighty-Four, whose fledgling attempts at finding a personal space of joy and happiness are ultimately crushed by the all-seeing, all-knowing Big Brother that rules Orwell’s fictional future England.
As it turned out, Bowie had real-life models for his protagonists. From the window of the studio where he and the musicians worked on the album every day, he saw a young couple embrace in the shadow of the Berlin Wall, directly below a turret. Not only was he struck by the incongruity of this image, but he quickly realized that the couple in question consisted of Tony Visconti—Bowie’s lifelong friend and the album’s producer—and Antonia Maas, one of his backing singers. The fact that Visconti was limping through the last stages of a failing marriage at the time lent the situation an added poignancy—and futility.
Writer Nicholas Pegg notes that the song’s elevation of the small and ordinary into the heroic signifies a move away from Bowie’s Nietzschean Superman preoccupations into more nuanced territory. And yet, this is not quite the same as a literary realist’s attempt to capture life as it is. “Heroes” is more akin to alchemy: We may be average and regular in the present moment, but we have the potential, at any time, for heroic thought and action—even if only for one day. The transformation can be brought about by an external event or through an internal change in perspective. Bowie would never become a champion of the everyman in the vein of Springsteen, yet the narrator of “Heroes” is certainly more human, and consequently more accessible, than some of the icier figures of Bowie’s earlier songs. And this, along with the song’s soaring vocals and Robert Fripp’s transcendent guitar work, goes a long way in explaining the longevity of “Heroes.” It remains one of Bowie’s most beloved, and most often-covered, compositions.
Bowie’s music had always been distinctive, but in the Berlin Trilogy he created something wholly original. “These albums have song structures that were never designed before, production tricks that had never been used before, themes that had never been touched before, and a cool factor that absolutely cannot be beat,” says screenwriter/musician Darren Callahan, one of the many artists of the succeeding generation to draw his inspiration from this period of Bowie’s work:
This music was parallel to, but never imitative of, punk rock, new wave, and disco, three of the most iconic periods in American music. Think of it: he DID NOT rip off these genres. You cannot say, “Hey, check out this awesome disco song by Bowie,” in the way you might say that about “I Was Made For Lovin’ You Baby” by KISS. He took all those forms (and others, like ambient music) and folded them into a completely original blend. No other period of his career was he so brave, so ahead of things, so absolutely free (and, let’s be honest, so unhappy and drugged up). It is the only period, for me, where he is not calculating anything; he is truly just smoking the pipe of creativity, an absolute open channel with no regard for anyone.
A number of creative and personal factors contributed to the artistic breakthrough of the Berlin albums. In keyboardist/arranger Brian Eno, Bowie had found a kindred spirit, someone who was adventurous enough to extend the cut-up technique beyond the realm of lyrics and into the music itself. Bowie and Eno would often compose sequences of music, write down the chords on notecards, shuffle them up, and then put the new combinations up on a bulletin board for the musicians to play. In many cases this resulted in discordant chaos, but not infrequently the exercise produced exciting new combinations that made their way onto the record.
With no regard for his record company’s commercial considerations, Bowie opted to fill the second sides of both the Low and “Heroes” LPs with mostly instrumental music—an especially bold move given that most listeners gravitated to Bowie due to his dynamic singing. “Low and ‘Heroes’ are really made for the LP experience,” Callahan notes. “If you hear them on CD or streaming, the albums both seem to die out. But if you queued up Side 2 of Low and then put Side 2 of ‘Heroes’ on the post, let them drop in that order on the turntable, it was one of the best ambient records of the ’70s.”
On the personal front, the Berlin Trilogy came at a point of crisis and transition. Finding himself addicted to cocaine and at an emotional dead end in Los Angeles by the mid-’70s, Bowie made the seemingly harebrained decision to move to Berlin (“the smack capital of Europe,” he later remarked) with friend and fellow self-destructive rocker Iggy Pop, of all people, in an attempt to clean up his act. Bizarrely, his plan worked, though the recovery was gradual—its shaky trajectory charted over the course of the three albums. “The Berlin albums are the inner stage on which the crisis plays out,” says American Conservative editor Daniel McCarthy, a longtime Bowie fan:
They’re emotionally powerful because they’re a very conscious confrontation of Bowie with himself—he overcomes his afflictions not by rediscovering some purer, inner, more innocent figure but by carefully building a new persona that can express sympathy with other people’s suffering—as heard on “Repetition” and “Fantastic Voyage” on Lodger, as well as on much of [post-Berlin release] Scary Monsters—even when he still feels set apart. It’s not warm empathy for humanity that one finds on Lodger or Scary Monsters (or any later Bowie album), it’s a sincere but cold simulation. He’s thinking what he cannot feel, probably because after the introspection of Low he now understands just what he is and isn’t capable of feeling.
Like Callahan, McCarthy regards the Berlin Trilogy (along with its immediate precursor and successor albums) as the pinnacle of Bowie’s catalog, and refers to the accompanying persona of this period as “Weimar Bowie.”
It’s safe to say that Bowie’s new approach baffled both his audience and the critics, even if the latter group ultimately came to regard these records as classics. Although his records had routinely achieved platinum status in the past, Bowie’s sales now hovered around 200,000. But if the albums alienated the general pop audience, they also attracted a new type of listener, best personified by the experimental composer Philip Glass, who was so taken with Low and “Heroes” that he went on to compose entire symphonies based around the albums twenty years later.
With the Berlin Trilogy, David Bowie built something new. And over time he attracted a sympathetic and influential audience. Younger acts such as Gary Numan, Devo (whom Bowie produced), Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, The Human League, and virtually all of the British “new pop” bands of the early 1980s picked up on Bowie’s lead and explored its implications within the context of their own work. And contemporaries such as the Walker Brothers and Marianne Faithfull made radical course corrections in the wake of the music’s release. (Below, listen to the Walker Brothers’ Bowie-influenced “Nite Flights” track from ’78.)
Bowie was certainly not the first, nor would he be the last, major pop star to take a bizarre left turn in the midst of a successful career. But he was relatively unique in his willingness to double down on his off-center ideas despite the drubbing he received. Most performers, when confronted with the cold shock of declining sales and an audience backlash, are quick to backpedal and return to the tried and true. Bowie, on the other hand, seemed to thrive on the animosity coming at him from all directions. If anything, it spurred him on to greater heights—a situation that would repeat itself almost exactly a decade later, and with arguably greater ferocity, during his foray with Tin Machine.
In both instances his protracted intransigence put him at odds with his record label and led to a break—first with RCA at the end of the 1970s, then, at the end of the 1980s, with EMI, the very label that had rescued him. Tin Machine never did earn the respect Bowie felt it deserved, but in the case of the Berlin Trilogy he had the last laugh. In 1980 he released Scary Monsters…And Super Creeps, a bold and challenging album by any standard. But by that point audiences had caught up with him. The trilogy had already influenced key individuals in the nascent post-punk and new wave movements, who in turn had made inroads into the pop music mainstream, and so listeners were now more receptive to Bowie’s chilly vocals; Robert Fripp’s jagged, atonal riffs; and Visconti’s treated drum sounds than they had been just three years ago. Also, Bowie’s songs on this album, while still off-center, at least seemed to have choruses again. Audiences sighed in relief and bought the album in considerable numbers. Scary Monsters became a hit, particularly in the UK, and managed to vindicate its three predecessors in one fell swoop. Most important, it achieved this feat without compromise. (Below: Scary Monsters track “Ashes to Ashes.”)
What stood out in the music world for 2016? The folks who work in the trenches here are gonna tell ya. Guarantee: all dialogue reported verbatim. Pictured above: our Artist of the Year, Angel Olsen (photo by Amanda Marsalis) – view an Olsen video, below, along with a clip from our Album of the Year, David Bowie’s Blackstar.
BY THE BLURT CRÜE
It’s like déjà vu all over again: For our 2016 year-end wrap-up we summarily yield the podium to the staffers and contributors who detail their personal picks for the year that just ended. Note that if you want to contact any member of our staff, their contact emails can be found below or at our “Contact” page. Meanwhile, elsewhere on the site we have our annual feature “Farewell: Music Passings” to pay tribute to those we lost in 2016.
Watch the video for Angel Olsen’s remarkable track “Sister,” from her equally remarkable 2016 album My Woman.
Watch the video for David Bowie’s chilling track “Lazarus,” from BLURT’s 2016 Album Of the Year, Blackstar
Also check out our 2012, 2013, 2014and 2015 coverage:
Parker Millsap (above) – The Very Last Day
Bent Shapes – Wolves of Want
Shovels & Rope – Little Seeds
Logan Lynn – Adieu
Seth Walker – Gotta Get Back
Dinosaur Jr. – Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not
Big Eyes – Stake My Claim
Brett Newski – Land Sea Air Garage
Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
toyGuitar – Move Like a Ghost
Crowded House – Crowded House, Temple of Low Men, Woodface, Together Alone, Afterglow (Vinyl Reissues)
Big Star – Complete Third
Mike Watt – Ring Spiel Tour ‘95
The Rave Ups – Town + Country
Nato Coles & The Blue Diamond Band – Live at Grumpy’s
My Damage – Keith Morris Big Star – Isolated in the Light – Carole Manning The Road Beneath My Feet – Frank Turner Under the Big Black Sun – John Doe The Cured – Lol Tolhurst
Dumbest Band Name: There have been a lot of great band names over the years that reference cult or even obscure movies (Black Sabbath, The Misfits, They Might Be Giants), but there is also a whole generation of bands who have started referencing wildly popular movies in their monikers that just comes off as ridiculously lame. Here’s are a few of the recent top offenders:
The Devil Wears Prada (and a Christian metal band, no less)
Chunk! No, Captain Chunk! (an actual line from The Goonies)
Save Ferris (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off)
Dawes — We’re All Gonna Die (HUB)
Bob Delevante — Valley of Days (Bright Star)
Blind Pilot — And the Like Lions (ATO)
Avett Brothers — True Sadness (Republic)
Jack Ingram — Midnight Motel (Rounder)
Low Anthem — Eyeland (Razor & Tie)
Fallon Cush — Bee in Your Bonnet (independent)
Pines — Above the Prairie (Red House)
Robert Ellis — self-titled (New West)
Reckless Kelly — Sunset Motel (No Big Deal)
Best Box Sets/Reissues:
Bob Dylan — The1966 Live Recordings (Legacy)
Otis Redding — Live at the Whiskey A Go Go (Volt)
Queen — On Air (Virgin)
Tori Amos — Boys for Pele (Rhino)
Trio (Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris, Linda Rondstadt) — The Complete Trio Collection (Rhino)
Jimi Hendrix — Machine Gun (Experience Hendrix/Legacy)
Jack White — Acoustic Recordings (Third Man)
Jethro Tull – Stand Up – The Elevated Edition (Chrysalis)
Doors — London Fog (Rhino)
Jigsaw Seen — For the Discriminating Completist (Burger)
Dawes — Bijou Theater (Knoxville TN)
The Mavericks — Rhythm and Roots Festival (Knoxville TN)
Dave Rawlings Machine — Bijou Theater (Knoxville TN)
Nick Lowe — Bijou Theater (Knoxville TN)
Webb Wilder — Sweet Pea’s (Knoxville TN)
Paul Thorn — The Shed (Maryville TN)
Best Music DVDs:
Everly Brothers — Harmonies (Eagle)
Nitty Gritty Dirt Band – Circlin’ Back – Celebrating 50 Years (NGDB)
Rolling Stones — Havana Moon (Universal)
Joan Armatrading – Me Myself I – World Tour Concert (429)
Various Artists – TAMI Show/The Big TNT Show (Shout)
Frank Sinatra — All or Nothing At All (Universal)
The Who — Live at Shea Stadium 1982 (Eagle)
Burt Bacharach — A Life In Song (Eagle/Universal)
Justin Haywood — Live In Concert at the Capitol Theatre (independent)
Most Tragic Death: Every single one of them — Bowie, Prince, Keith Emerson, Paul Kantner, Guy Clark, Greg Lake, George Michael, George Martin – how can one say one loss is greater than another? This year simply sucked for the toll it took
Dumbest Band Name: Diarrhea Planet — Likely my pick from last year. Good luck getting airplay with that handle, boys. I can hear it now — some oldies station ten years from now proclaiming “Hey, kids… it’s gonna be a Diarrhea Planet Weekend!”
Worst Trend: This year, same as last year, same as the year before — the continued eradication of physical CDs – the lack of respect for the album as a complete physical art form, something to be held, cherished, appreciated in whole rather than just an amorphous entity that exists without form or function. I know it’s a losing battle, but damn it, I won’t give up. Bring back the album in physical form!
Peter Astor- Spilt Milk (Slumberland)
Beverly- The Blue Swell (Kanine)
Musk- Musk 2: The Second Skumming (12XU)
Teenage Fanclub- Here (Merge)
Dot Dash – Searchlights (The Beautiful Music)
Whitney- Light Upon The Lake (Secretly Canadian)
Lucy Dacus- No Burden (Matador)
Connections- Midnight Run (Anyway)
Ultimate Painting- Dusk (Trouble in Mind)
The Monochrome Set- Cosmonaut (Tapete )
Overlord- The Well-Tempered Overlord (Storm Tower)
Red Sleeping Beauty- Kristina (Labrador/ Shelflife)
Million Sellers- Sufficiently Rude (Wanda Records)
Dex Romweber- Carrboro (Bloodshot)
Empty Markets- Stainless Steel (12XU)
Tears Run Rings- In Surges (Deep Space Recordings)
Dinosaur Jr- Give A Glimpse of What Yer Not (Jagjaguwar)
Car Seat Headrest- Teens of Denial (Matador)
The Well Wishers- Comes and Goes (Self Released)
Cat’s Eyes- Treasure House (Raf)
Chook Race – Around the House (Trouble in Mind)
The Holiday Crowd – S/T (Shelflife)
A Giant Dog- Pile (Merge)
Real Numbers- Wordless Wonders (Slumberland)
The City Yelps- The City Yelps Half Hour (Emotional Response/ Odd Box Recordings)
Rikk Agnew- Learn (Frontier)
E- S./T (Thrill Jockey)
Nots- Cosmetic (Goner/ Heavenly)
Great Lakes- Wild Vision (Loose Trucks)
Cavern of Anti-Matter- Void Beats/ Invocation Trex (Duophonic)
Sunflower Bean- Human Ceremony (Fart Possum)
Savages- Adore Life (Matador)
Nada Surf- You Know Who You Are (Barsuk)
The Twin Atlas- The Big Spring (self released)
The New Lines- Love & Cannibalism (Feral Child)
Sound of Ceres- Nostalgia for Infinity (Joyful Noise)
Blue Orchids- the once and Future Thing (tiny global)
James Arthur’s Manhunt- Digital Clubbing (12XU)
Kid Congo and the Pink Monkeybirds- La Arana Es la Vida (In the Red)
EZTV- High in Places (Captured Tracks)
The Scientists- A Place Called Bad (Numero Group)
Aberdeen- It Was the Rain: Lost recordings 1993-1995 (Used Bin Pop)
Pylon- Live (Chunklet)
The Hollywood Brats- Sick on You (Cherry Red)
Queen Annes- Released! (Green Monkey)
Velvet Crush- Pre-Teen Symphonies (Omnivore)
The Bangles – Ladies and Gentlemen (Omnivore)
Tiny Tim – The Complete Singles Collections: 1966-1970 (The Now Sounds/ Cherry Red)
Tim Buckley- Wings (Omnivore)
Maureen Evans- Like I Do: The Sixties Recordings (Cherry Red)
The Chills- Kaleidoscope World (Flying Nun)
Sandra Bell- Dreams of Falling (Straight to Video)
The Fall- Hex Enduction Hour (Superior Viaduct)
The Summer Hits- Beaches and Canyons (Medical)
Game Theory- The Big Shot Chronicles (Omnivore)
Sneaks- Gymnastic (Merge)
Stick Men with Rayguns- Property of Jesus Christ (12XU)
Stick Men with Rayguns- 1,000 Lives to Die (12XU)
Sciflyer- The Age of Lovely Intimate Things (Elephant Stone/ Tonevendor)The Flesh Eaters- Forever Came Today (Superior Viaduct)
Pylon- Gravity/ Weather Radio – live (Chunklet)
Tony Molina –Confront the Truth (Slumberland)
Lush – Blind Spot (Edamame Records)
Deardarkhead- Strange Weather (Saint Marie Records)
Allen Clapp- Six Seasons (MLM)
Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth (Atlantic)
Touché Amoré – Stage Four (Epitaph)
Frank Ocean – Blonde (Boys Don’t Cry)
Slothrust – Everybody Else (Dangerbird)
Anderson .Paak – Malibu (Steel Wool)
Into It. Over It. – Standards (Triple Crown)
Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love!” (Glassnote)
10. The Hotelier – Goodness (Tiny Engines)
11. Jeff Rosenstock – (SideOneDummy)
12. Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition (Warp)
13. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service (Epic)
14. Lucy Dacus – No Burden (Matador/EggHunt)
15. Drive-By Truckers – American Band (ATO)
Top Americana/Country Albums of 2016:
Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth (Atlantic)
Drive-By Truckers – American Band (ATO)
Brent Cobb – Shine On Rainy Day (Low Country Sound/Elektra)
Dwight Yoakam – Swimmin’ Pools, Movie Stars… (Sugar Hill)
Slothrust – Everyone Else (Dangerbird Records)
2. Gucci Mane – Woptober (Atlantic Records)
3. Angel Olsen – My Woman (Jagjaguwar)
4. Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid (Rhymesayers Entertainment)
5. Agnes Obel – Citizen of Glass (PIAS America)
6. Dinosaur Jr – Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not (Jagjaguwar)
7. Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition (Warp)
8. NxWorries – Yes Lawd! (Stones Throw)
9. The Hotelier – Goodness (Tiny Engines)
10. Old Gray- Slow Burn (Flower Girl Records)
Top 5 live shows of 2016:
1. Iggy Pop @ Austin City Limits in Austin, TX
2. Brand New/The Front Bottoms/Modern Baseball @ Eaglebank Arena in Fairfax, VA
3. Gucci Mane @ Winston Salem Fairgrounds in Winston Salem, NC
4. Danny Brown @ Cats Cradle in Carrboro, NC
5. Flume @ House of Blues in Boston, MA
Erik Satie and Friends Original Albums Collection (Sony Classical)
Ornette Coleman To Whom Who Keeps a Record (Superior Viaduct)
Nvdes “The Other Side” (B3SCI)
Lemaitre “Stepping Stone [feat. Mark Johns]” (Astralwerks)
Kendrick Lamar “Untitled 3” (Grammys)
Skogsrå “Out of Time” (Good Soldier)
Kovary “Hot With You” (No Definition)
Unlike Pluto “Waiting For You (feat. Joanna Jones)” (Monstercat)
Rachel Platten feat. Andy Grammer “Hey Hey Hallelujah” (Sony)
Christon Gray “Stop Me” (Fo Yo Soul/RCA)
Lushlife/CSLSX Featuring Deniro Farrar “Incantation” (Western Vinyl)
10. Jean Tonique “Lit Up Feat. Dirty Radio” (Partyfine)
“Die Fledermaus” at Metropolitan Opera, NYC – January 7
“Winter Jazzfest,” various NYC clubs -January 15
Iggy Pop at Austin City Limits, Texas – March 16
Faust at Market Hotel, NYC – March 30
Kamasi Washington/Sun Ra Arkestra/Pharaoh Sanders at Greenpoint Terminal, NYC – May 8
“Other Music Forever” at Bowery Ballroom, NYC – June 28
Lou Reed Tribute at Lincoln Center, NYC – July 30
ELO at Radio City Music Hall, NYC – September 16
Roots Picnic at Bryant Park, NYC – October 2
10. Mary J Blige, Maxwell at Madison Square Garden, NYC – November 10
Bobby Rush – Porcupine Meat
Randy Travis “Amazing Grace”
Heart, Michael Bolton, Usher, Cyndi Lauper, Sheryl Crow, Josh Groban, John Mellencamp, Imagine Dragons “Don’t Use Our Songs”
Ho99o9 “Blood Waves”
The Beatles – Eight Days A Week
Stooges – Gimme Danger
L7 – Pretend That We’re Dead
Last of the Mississippi Jukes
Bang – The Bert Berns Story
Danny Alexander Real Love, No Drama: The Music of Mary J. Blige
Bruno Cerlotti Love Day -By -Day 1945 -1971
John Corbett A Listener’s Guide to Free Improvisation
Courtney Harding How We Listen Now: Essays and Conversations About Music and Technology
Bob Mehr Trouble Boys: The True Story of the Replacements
James McBride Kill ‘Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul
Andy Partridge Complicated Game: Inside the Songs of XTC
Ben Ratliff Every Song Ever: Twenty Ways to Listen in an Age of Musical Plenty
Villain of the year: Donald J. aka the Talking Yam
Best facial hair: Nick Offerman
Dumbest band name: Ravioli Me Away (to be fair, their album’s pretty good)
Most anticipated album of 2017: Run the Jewels*
Notable deaths: Prince, Bowie, Lemmy, Leonard Cohen, Marlene Marder (Kleenex/Liliput), Colonel Abrams, Sharon Jones, Mose Allison, Phil Chess, Prince Buster
*sorry Jason, it got surprise -released in 2016 after your list was submitted, and in fact it is on BLURT’s best -of list for 2016 albums. –Ed.
Gillian Gaar / Seattle, WA Facebook.com/GillianGaarWriter/, @Gillian Gaar
Top Albums of 2016:
Reign — Golden Gardens (self-released) It’s great to discover new music in your own backyard. As I’ve said many times, this band’s music should be featured in the upcoming Twin Peaks series; eerie and ethereal.
Maggie Herron — Between the Music and the Moon (self-released) Maggie plays cool jazz four nights a week at the Lewers Lounge at Halekulani hotel in Waikiki (where you can also check out my favorite drink, the Lost Passion).
Kate Bush — Before the Dawn (Fish People/Concord) I still get to gloat that I saw two of these shows.
David Bowie — Blackstar (ISO/RCA/Columbia/Sony) This album would still be in most Top 10s, even if he hadn’t died.
The Claypool Lennon Delirium — Monolith of Phobos (ATO) Really imaginative; dizzyingly good fun.
7 Year Bitch — Live at Moe (Moe Recordings) So great to see one of my favorite ‘90s bands rekindle the flame.
Green Day — Revolution Radio (Reprise) I like the rock operas better, but this’ll do nicely.
The Posies — Solid States (Lojinx) As everyone’s been saying, their best album in years.
The Melvins — Basses Loaded (Ipecac) How can you resist “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”?
The Julie Ruin — Hit Reset (Hardly Art) Catchy as heck.
Pink Floyd — The Early Years 1965-1972 (Legacy/Pink Floyd Records) I’ve just heard the music, and it’s a fantastic collection. Hope a Secret Santa gifts me a copy.
Queen — Queen On Air (deluxe) (Hollywood) After years of getting bits and pieces, it’s great to have all these tracks in one place. Especially that fabulous 1977 session!
The Beach Boys — Becoming the Beach Boys: The Complete Hite & Dorinda Morgan Sessions (Omnivore Recordings) Fascinating document of the early years.
Elvis Presley — Elvis On Television 1956-1960 (Memphis Recording Service)
John Lennon & Yoko Ono — Unfinished Music No. 1: Two Virgins, Unfinished Music No. 2: Life with the Lions; Yoko Ono — Plastic Ono Band (Secretly Canadian/Chimera Music) The link between the Velvet Underground and Patti Smith.
Mother Love Bone — On Earth As It Is: The Completed Works (Monkeywrench) Andy Wood was a star in the making — he was a Stardog Champion! He lives on in this release.
David Bowie — Who Can I Be Now (1974-1976) (Rhino/Parlophone) Part 2 in this box set series offers the albums, new mixes, and rarities — and incentive to buy the next box.
Tad — God’s Balls, Salt Lick, 8 Way Santa (Sub Pop) In all their gnarly glory, with bonus tracks.
Temple of the Dog — Temple of the Dog (super deluxe edition) (A&M/UME) Grunge’s first supergroup staged the most surprising reunion of the year, celebrated with a nice box set.
Gillian G. Gaar — Boss: Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band, The Illustrated History (Voyageur Press) I’m plugging my own book because the Lord helps those who help themselves.
Andy Neill — I’m Looking Through You: Rare and Unseen Photos from The Beatles Book Archives (Overlook Omnibus) The Beatles Book was the band’s official fan club magazine, and if you’re a Beatles fan, this book is a must!
Joel Selvin — Altamont: The Rolling Stones, the Hells Angels and the Inside Story of Rock’s Darkest Day (Dey St.) The best book ever on that infamous day.
Steve Turner — Beatles ’66: The Revolutionary Year (Ecco) Steve Turner is a wonderful writer, taking you through a year that was a real turning point for the Fab Four.
Chuck Gunderson — Some Fun Tonight: The Backstage Story of How The Beatles Rocked America (Backbeat Books) The definitive work on the subject.
Gordon Minto and Joseph Pirzada — Elvis on Television (Boxcar Enterprises) Because if you buy the accompanying CD set, you might as well buy the lavishly illustrated 400 page book.
Larry Livermore — How to Ru(i)n a Record Label: The Story of Lookout Records (Don Giovanni Records) Even though Green Day brought Lookout some unexpected success, this will certainly make you think twice about starting a record label.
Ada Calhoun — St Mark’s is Dead: The Many Lives of America’s Hippest Street (W.W. Norton) Not strictly a music book, but musicians are a part of the story.
John Doe — Under the Big Black Sun: A Personal History of L.A. Punk (Da Capo Press) Doe and friends share a lot of fun stories about the era.
Brian Wilson and Ben Greenman — I Am Brian Wilson: A Memoir (Da Capo Press) and Mike Love and James S. Hirsch — Good Vibrations: My Life as a Beach Boy (Blue Rider Press) Because if you’re interested in the Beach Boys, you owe it to yourself to read both sides of the story.
01. Sulo – Brilliant Outsiders (Universal)
02. Ian Hunter – Fingers Crossed (Proper)
03. Cotton Mather – Death of the Cool (Star Apple Kingdom)
04. The I Don’t Cares – Wild Stab (Dry Wood)
05. Bun E. Carlos – Greetings From Bunezuela (Entertainment One)
06. Todd Snider – Eastside Bulldog – (Aimless)
07. Drive-By Truckers – American Band (ATO)
08. Butch Walker – Stay Gold (Dangerbird)
09. Nada Surf – You Know Who You Are (Barsuk)
10. Quireboys – Twisted Love (Off Yer Rocka)
Top 10 2016 Songs:
01. Samm Henshaw – Our Love (Columbia)
02. Cheap Trick – Sing My Blues Away (Big Machine)
03. Ian Hunter – Dandy (Proper)
04. Bun E. Carlos – Tell Me (Entertainment One)
05. Butch Walker – Stay Gold (Dangerbird)
06. Rolling Stones – Just Your Fool (Interscope)
07. Pretenders – Holy Commotion (BMG)
08. Nick Piunti – One Hit Wonder (Jem)
09. Kurt Baker Combo – Baby’s Gone Bad (Wicked Cool)
10. Weeklings – Little Elvis (Jem)
Year End Musings…
Theme of the Year: Death. It started with Bowie, and it just didn’t stop…Prince, Leon Russell, Paul Kantner, Buffin, Chris Squire, Glenn Frey, Mose Allison, George Martin, Leonard Cohen, Sharon Jones, two-thirds of Emerson Lake and Palmer. Too many more producers, session guys, songwriters to list here. I get it – rock is a senior citizen and the lists will get longer, but it doesn’t make it any easier. Oh…and in November? The Death of Hope.
Glad the Stones stopped trying to write new songs and went back to their roots. But as enjoyable as the record was, I can’t help wish they recorded one when Ian Stewart, Nicky Hopkins and Bobby Keyes were alive. Or if they recorded the whole affair with Bill Wyman and Mick Taylor. Brian Jones is rolling over in his pool.
I didn’t get angry when the Rock Hall of Fame nominations were announced with the usual egregious mis-steps. I just don’t care anymore. Maybe that’s maturity? I subscribe to these two commandments – (1) Music is subjective, so my rock hall of fame includes those who my ears, heart and head say belong, and (2) The Sex Pistols nailed it with their response to being nominated.
Maybe rock *is* dead. Paul Westerberg dropped the best work he’s done in ages and it didn’t even make a sound. If it was revealed that he recorded Wild Stab six months after Don’t Tell A Soul and All Shook Down, I would believe it.
Thank you, Loudon Wainwright III, for continuing to make me mostly piss myself laughing but sometimes choke back tears. Concert of the year.
Ray Davies is still being catty and obtuse about a Kinks reunion. Just…stop. Ray, you have a legacy *and* a hit musical that honors your life’s work. Don’t shit all over it by trotting a Kinks reunion band on stage fifteen years too late. I’m probably the biggest Kinks fan on the planet, and even I would rather retain my memories than see the Too-Late-For-Prime-Time Players.
Good start for 2017. New albums already scheduled from Dan Baird, Chuck Prophet, Old 97s, Ryan Adams and Sharks. How about it, Dictators NYC? Reigning Sound? Graham Parker? Webb Wilder? Dramarama?
Resolutions for 2017: (1) Write more often. (2) Go to every concert I’m mildly interested in because artists need support, and increasingly sad but true, there may not be a next time. (3) Write more often. (4) Continue a trend started at Bowie’s passing where I immerse myself in a veteran artist’s catalogue for a week or two. This year alone I wallowed in constants like Bowie, Stones, Rory Gallagher, Neil Young, Dylan and Mott and some whose albums were a little dustier like Roxy Music, Suzi Quatro and Billy Joel. Great therapy and a flush of dim memories thankfully rekindled. Highly recommended! (5) Write more.
1) David Bowie— Blackstar (Sony/RCA/Columbia)
2) Crippled Black Phoenix–-Bronze (Invada)
3) Charles Bradley—Changes (Daptone Records)
4) Hayes Carll—Lovers and Leavers (Lost Highway)
5) Margo Price– Mid-Western Farmers Daughter (Third Man)
6) Big Jesus—Oneiric (Mascot)
7) GOAT—Requiem (Stranded Rekords)
8) Good Tiger—Headful Of Moonlight (Blacklight)
9) Sunflower Bean—Human Ceremony (Fat Possum)
10) Angel Olsen—My Woman (jagjaguwar)
11) Tribe called Quest–We Got It From Here….(Jive)
12) A Giant Dog—Pile (Merge)
13) Durand jones and the Indications–S/t (Colemine)
Ben Watt — Fever Dream (Caroline/Unmade Road) Formerly known as the male half of Everything But The Girl and the owner of Buzzin Fly Records, Ben Watt has carved out yet another role for himself in the last few years as a singer-songwriter — and it fits him like a glove. His third solo album, Fever Dream picks up where 2014’s Hendra left off: intimate lyrics set to moody sonic landscapes. Highlights range from the nagging title track to the catchy “Faces of My Friends” to haunting ballads like “New Year of Grace” and “Winter’s Eve.”
David Bowie — Blackstar (Columbia) It’s hard to separate this album from the fact that Bowie died two days after its release. But trying to be as objective as possible, it still strikes me as a concise masterpiece. In a little over 40 minutes, Bowie stares mortality in the eye without being morose — and he draws on everything from free jazz to Beatlesque pop in the process. The result is at once heartbreaking and uplifting.
Suzanne Vega — Lover, Beloved (Amanuensis Productions) Lover Beloved is another concise masterpiece: a series of 10 songs that deal with Carson McCullers, the late author who pioneered the Southern Gothic style. Meant to preview Vega’s new play An Evening with Carson McCullers, this album is by turns haunting (“Annemarie,” “Instant of the Hour After”), wistful (“New York is My Destination”) and funny (“Harper Lee”).
Paul Simon — Stranger to Stranger (Concord Records) On his first disc of new material in four years, Simon reasserts himself as one of the best songwriters of all time. Musically, he explores the concept of microtonal tunings, created by the late composer Harry Partch. Lyrically, he’s in fine form as ever — especially on the infectious but wry “Wristband,” which starts out as a personal story but ends up telling universal truths.
Drive-By Truckers — American Band (ATO Records) Patterson Hood, Mike Cooley and their cohorts seem to turn out albums at an exhaustive pace. American Band finds the Truckers tackling a variety of subjects from violence and racism (“What It Means,” “Guns of Umpqua,” “Ramon Casiano”) to Robin Williams’ suicide (the album-closer “Baggage”). The result is a warts-and-all look at America in the here and now. No easy answers but a lot of important questions — backed by kickass, Southern rock and roll.
Norah Jones — Day Breaks (Blue Note) NoJo’s sixth studio outing finds her returning to a more jazz-oriented setting, after her work with alt-rock producers like Jacquire King and Danger Mouse. Day Breaks is the Norah we first fell for but older and wiser. Her vocals are as sublime as ever and the album’s guests include jazz legends like Wayne Shorter and Dr. Lonnie Smith.
Edward Rogers — Glass Marbles (ZIP Records) NYC-by-way-of-Birmingham-UK singer-songwriter Rogers has been turning out quality work — both on his own and with various bands — since the ‘90s. At 18 songs, Glass Marbles is, admittedly, a lot to sift through. But Rogers hits more than he misses. Highlights range from “Denmark Street Forgotten” and “Welcome to My Monday Morning” — both of which offer Anglo-pop reminiscent of The Kinks — to the forceful, psychedelic title track.
SHEL — Just Crazy Enough (Moraine Music) I’m not sure if they’re certifiably crazy but there’s no question that the four Holbrook sisters that make up SHEL are insanely talented. Their long-awaited sophomore set, Just Crazy Enough, is more pop-oriented and perhaps a bit less quirky than their debut but it’s another winner. “Rooftop” is a catchy pop tune with a twist, while their cover of “Enter Sandman” slows the Metallica song down until it’s an eerie lullaby.
CRX — New Skin (Columbia) The side project of Strokes guitarist Nick Valensi finds him working in a similar vein to that band. New Skin doesn’t maintain the super high bar set by the first track, “Ways to Fake It” all the way through — but it’s enjoyable, New Wave-influenced pop nonetheless.
Dead Horses — Cartoon Moon (Dead Horses) The third album by this Wisconsin trio is a haunting affair sure to please fans of Americana music in general and, more specifically, The Cowboy Junkies.
Cheap Trick — Bang, Zoom, Crazy…Hello! (Big Machine) 2. Ally Venable Band — No Glass Shoes (Connor Ray Music) 3. Blue Rodeo — 1000 Arms (Telesoul Records) 4. Mother Feather — self-titled (Metal Blade) 5. Cyndi Lauper — Detour (Sire)
Lou Reed — The RCA & Arista Album Collection (Sony/Legacy) 16 discs that chronicle Lou Reed’s career from the early ‘70s to the mid ‘80s, not to mention great liner notes by Hal Willner and memorabilia galore. A most enjoyable walk on the wild side courtesy of Sony/Legacy Recordings.
Paul McCartney — Pure McCartney (Concord/Hear Music)
Jeff Buckley — You and I (Sony/Legacy)
Various Artists — Action Time Vision: A Story of Independent UK Punk (Cherry Red)
Survivor — The Definitive Collection (Real Gone Music)
The Connells — Stone Cold Yesterday (Bicycle Music)
David Bowie — Who Can I Be Now: 1974—1976 (Rhino/Parlophone)
Brook Benton — Rainy Night in Georgia: The Complete Reprise & Cotillion Singles (Real Gone Music)
Milk N’ Cookies — self-titled (Captured Tracks)
The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band — Circlin’ Back: Celebrating 50 Years (NGDB Records)
In Memoriam: Where do I begin? Without going on endlessly, I don’t think I’m alone when I say that I’ve never experienced a year like 2016. From start to finish, it’s been marked by loss and adversity — personally, politically and certainly in the music world. For me, the biggest losses were David Bowie, Prince and (just last weekend) George Michael. All three were immense talents, all three died young and (while Bowie appeared more than a decade earlier), all three ruled the airwaves during the 1980s. Earlier this year, while interviewing Ben Watt, I asked his thoughts on Bowie. “He was such a strong, iconic figure,” Watt replied. “Untouchable, in a way. I remember feeling the same way about Prince in the ‘80s: just ridiculously talented, mercurial [and] ever-changing.” Strangely, Prince died a few days after our conversation. I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention Merle Haggard, Leonard Cohen, Natalie Cole (who died on New Years’ Day), Keith Emerson, Greg Lake, Sharon Jones, Maurice White, Glenn Frey, Leon Russell, Paul Kantner and Nicholas Caldwell of The Whispers. Hope I didn’t miss anyone… In truth, I’ll be missing a lot of these folks.
Biggest Disappointment: Here, the first album from Teenage Fanclub since 2010. I loved their last album, Shadows, and am a big fan of the Fannies in general. On Shadows, they were mellower and more content than usual but the songwriting was still there. Unfortunately, Here crosses the line from content into tranquil and boring.
Best Label: Sony/Legacy
Best New Artist: The Ally Venable Band (She may be working in a traditional genre — the blues — but Ally Venable does what she does well. And she’s still only in her teens!)
Hero of the Year: It’s a tossup… David Bowie for continuing to create great art right up to his death and even incorporating death into his art on both Blackstar and the “Lazarus” video”…. And Bruce Springsteen for still playing three-to-four hour shows at the age of 66, inviting fans onstage during those shows, casually calling Donald Trump out as “a moron” in Rolling Stone and, in general, being Bruce Springsteen.
Asshole of the Year: Madonna. Hands down, for the second year in a row. This year, the Material Girl performed a narcissistic concert tribute to Bowie (which proved only that her voice is shot), exposed a young fan’s breast during a concert and offered blow jobs to anyone who voted for Hillary Clinton. I’m still not sure who cost Hillary the election — Putin or Madonna. In any event, this is what happens when you’re so desperate to remain relevant that you resort to shock tactics in lieu of talent.
Best Holiday Song: “This is a Christmas Song, My Love” by JayMay
Best Video: David Bowie — “Lazarus”
Best Concert: Norah Jones at The Sheen Center. October 2016, NYC.
Best/Worst Band Name: Cattle Decapitation
Worst Trend: Musicians dying relentlessly, before their time.
2017 Release I’m Most Anticipating: The third (and supposedly final) disc by The Distractions, Kindly Leave the Stage.
Goodbye Blue – Worth The Wait (Wondermore Records)
Waiting For Henry – Town Called Patience (Mighty Hudson Music)
Mike Eldred Trio – Baptist Town (Great Western Recording Company)
Best Concert of 2016: Ricky Skaggs & Ry Cooder – Massey Hall, April 11th, 2016
Hal Bienstock / Brooklyn, NY
David Bowie – Blackstar (Columbia/RCA/ISO)
Bon Iver – 22, A Million (Jagjaguwar)
Beyonce – Lemonade (Columbia/Parkwood)
Angel Olsen – My Woman (Jagjaguar)
Mitski – Puberty 2 (Dead Oceans)
Drive-By Truckers – American Band (ATO)
Lori McKenna – The Bird & the Rifle (CN)
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree (Bad Seed Ltd.)
Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial (Matador)
Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book (self-released)
Honorable mention: Solange – A Seat at the Table (Saint/Columbia), Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker (Columbia), Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth (Atlantic), St. Paul & the Broken Bones – Sea of Noise (Records), Hiss Golden Messenger – Heart Like a Levee (Merge), Anderson .Paak – Malibu (Steel Wool/Obe/Art Club/Empire), Lucy Dacus – No Burden (Egghunt/Matador), Lydia Loveless – Real (Bloodshot), White Denim – Stiff (Downtown), Big Thief – Masterpiece (Saddle Creek)
The Band – The Last Waltz 40th Anniversary Edition (Rhino/Warner Bros.)
Lou Reed – The RCA & Arista Album Collection (Sony Legacy)
Van Morrison – ..It’s Too Late to Stop Now…Volumes II, III, IV & DVD (Sony Legacy)
Afghan Whigs – Black Love 20th Anniversary Edition (Rhino/Warner Bros.)
Terry Allen – Juarez (Paradise of Bachelors)
Terry Reid – The Other Side of the River (Future Days Recordings)
Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band – 1/27, NY, NY
The Hold Steady – 12/3, Brooklyn, NY
Jason Isbell – 2/25, NY, NY
The Roots with D’Angelo and John Mayer – 10/1, NY, NY
Tame Impala/Dungen – 6/15, Brooklyn, NY
Jennifer Kelly / Walpole, MA
Top 10 Albums:
1. Heron Oblivion, S-T (Sub Pop)
2. Nick Cave, Skeleton Key (Bad Seed)
3. Car Seat Headrest, Teens of Denial (Matador)
4. Ryley Walker, Golden Sings that have been Sung (Dead Oceans)
5. Dark Blue, Start of the World (12XU)
6. Savages, Adore (Matador)
7. Purling Hiss, High Bias (Drag City)
8. Cross Record, Wabi Sabi (BaDaBing)
9. Steve Gunn, Eyes on the Lines (Matador)
10. City Yelps, Half Hour (Odd Box)
Honorable mention (not in order):
Pony Time, Rumors 2 (Ss)
Bob Mould, Patch the Sky (Merge)
Giant Peach, Tarantula (Don Giovanni)
Honey Radar, Blank Cartoon (What’s Your Rupture)
Beef Jerk, Tragic (Trouble In Mind)
Big Thief, Masterpiece (Saddle Creek)
Chook Race, Around the House (Trouble In Mind)
Haelos, Full Circle (Matador)
Itasca, Open Secret (Paradise of Bachelors)
Kevin Morby, Singing Saw (Dead Oceans)
Mind Spiders, Prothesis (Dirtnap)
Also enjoyed some reissues and comps this year:
VA, Still in a Dream (Cherry Red)
VA, Action Time Vision (Cherry Red)
S to S, S-T (Sommor)
The Jack Rose reissues (Three Lobed)
Pylon live (Chunklet Industries)
The Suicide reissues (Superior Viaduct)
Mark Jenkins / Washington, DC
Top 10 Albums (alphabetical by performer):
Case/Lang/Viers – “Case/Lang/Viers” (Anti)
Flasher – “Flasher” (Sister Polygon)
Future of the Left – “The Peace & Truce of Future of the Left” (Prescription UK)
The Joy Formidable – “Hitch” (Caroline)
Luisa Maita – “Fiodamemoria” (Cumbancha)
Scenario Art – “Dumping Swimmer” (Ki/oon Japan)
Noura Mint Seymali – “Arbina” (Glitterbeat UK)
Title Tracks – “Long Dream” (Ernest Jenning)
Daby Toure – “Amonafi” (Cumbancha)
Trash Can Sinatras – “Wild Pendulum” (Red River)
Dot Dash – “Crumbs” – from “Searchlights” (The Beautiful Music)
Kingsley Flood – “A Ways Away” from “Another Other” (Kingsley Flood)
Radiohead – “Ful Stop” – from “A Moon Shaped Pool” (XL)
Teenage Fanclub – “It’s A Sign” – from “Here” (Merge)
Tricky – “Boy” – from “Skilled Mechanics” (False Idols/!K7 UK)
Top 10 Albums:
Lori McKenna – The Bird & The Rifle (CN Records/Thirty Tigers)
Drive By Truckers – American Band (ATO)
Hiss Golden Messenger – Heart Like a Levee (Merge)
Robbie Fulks – Upland Stories (Bloodshot)
Elise Davis – The Token (Make The Kill/Thirty Tigers)
Zach Schmidt – The Day We Lost The War (Self-release)
Joe Henry/Billy Bragg – Shine A Light (Cooking Vinyl)
St. Paul & The Broken Bones – Sea Of Noise (Records)
The Monkees – Good Times (Rhino)
Courtney Marie Andrews – Honest Life (Mama Bird)
John Schacht / Charlotte, N.C.
My favorite 2016 records were pretty Catholic, stylistically speaking, suggesting a fertile music harvest. But it was tempered by the unmooring loss of genre-defying icons, and a digital landscape where pathfinders and schlubs get valued equally, and nobody gets paid. Yet all that is overshadowed by the year’s defining event, which casts its post-truth orange pall over everything, music included. Still, I choose to hear in all these artists’ visions a fundamental rebuke, as well as hope for a world where the arc of history still bends toward beauty and diversity rather than boorish excess, bigotry and bullying.
Holy Sons—In the Garden (Partisan)
Parquet Courts—Human Performance (Rough Trade)
Y La Bamba —Ojos del Sol (Tender Loving Empire)
Sin Ropas—Mirror Bride (Jealous Butcher)
Max Romeo—Horror Zone (Nu Roots)
Damien Jurado—Visions of Us On the Land (Secretly Canadian)
Nels Cline—Lovers (Blue Note)
Woods—City Sun Eater in the River of Light (Woodsist)
Drive-By Truckers – American Band (ATO)
Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth (Atlantic)
David Bowie – Blackstar (Columbia / RCA)
Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker (Columbia / RCA)
Savages – Adore Life (Matador)
Shearwater – Jet Plane and Oxbow (Sub Pop)
Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool (XL)
Anderson.Paak – Malibu (Empire)
Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial (Matador)
Lucy Dacus – No Burden (Matador)
2016 – It was a very good year for music … but a lousy one generally…
David Bowie – Blackstar (Columbia) Brave, brilliant goodbye. From the most important musical artist from the Seventies and beyond. By turns serene and aggrieved, “Blackstar” won’t soon be forgotten. (Btw, Car Seat Headrest does an awesome version of the title song in their live show).
Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial (Matador) Yearning, conflicted – Will Toledo is the ungainly offspring of Brian Wilson and Lou Reed, who grew up listening to Nirvana. Live, you can see him growing into his Rock God costume begrudgingly.
Mitski – Puberty 2 (Dead Oceans) Passion, good songs, distinct point of view, varied/immaculate production. And she had me at “Kill me, Jerusalem,” whatever that means.
Public Access T.V. – Never Enough (Cinematic) One of their songs goes, “They say the kids don’t like rock ‘n’ roll anymore.” But these kids party like it’s 1979. Imagine the Tuff Darts or somebody – with a LOT better songs.
Rolling Stones – Blue and Lonesome (Interscope) Before becoming the ‘greatest rock ‘n’ roll band in the world’ the Stones wanted to be a good blues band. As wily old dogs they sound like a good blues band and the Rolling Stones. Jagger, believe or not, is a revelation, fully himself, yet in full homage mode
Margaret Glaspy – Emotions and Math (ATO) Breathy Aimee Mann-isms, with tunes to match, and a “Plastic Ono Band” pre-grunge abrasion.
D Generation – Nothing is Anywhere (Bastard Basement) Seventeen, more or less, years apart made them a better band. Jesse Malin’s growth as a songwriter is part of it. The other part is the band’s confident blasting of hard rock, not subservient to any genre.
Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition (Warp) When asked about the popularity of “Blood on the Tracks,” Bob Dylan told Mary Travers (of Peter, Paul and Mary fame) that it was “hard to relate to that – people enjoying that type of pain, you know?” One could say the same about “Atrocity Exhibition,” but Brown adorns his depression with hip-hop genius.
PJ Harvey – The Hope Six Demolition Project (Island) Some critics weren’t persuaded by PJ as Brechtian agit-popper. I was. Far as I’m concerned, until she puts out a crappy record, Harvey always has a shot at my top ten for that year.
Helen Money – Become Zero (Thrill Jockey) What I said about Danny Brown? Applies here too. Money is actually cellist Alison Chesley. “Become Zero’s” elegiac pieces, inspired by her parent’s recent deaths, remind of Penderecki and Shostakovich, cast in the steel of post-rock. Dark, but beautiful. Not easy listening, but deeply touching.
Walter Martin – “Jobs I Had Before I Got Rich and Famous” (lle Flottante Music)
Paul Simon – “Wristband” (Concord)
Frank Ocean – “Ivy” (Boys Don’t Cry)
The National – “Morning Dew” (4AD)
The Monkees – “Me & Magdalena” (Rhino)
Anderson .Paak – “The Bird” (Steel Wool/Obe)
The Bad Plus – “Mandy” (Sony Masterworks)
Best Live Performances:
Patti Smith – A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall at Nobel Prize Ceremony, Stockholm, Dec. 10: Who wouldn’t – or shouldn’t – stumble over those frightening apocalyptic lyrics? They seem scarier now, considering the guy about to become president, than in 1962 when Dylan wrote the song. And her graceful recovery reminded us of why she’s such a charming human being.
Yo La Tengo and Lambchop sharing the stage and each other’s songs at a late-night Big Ears Festival show in Knoxville.
Best Reissue: Wayfaring Strangers: Cosmic American Music (The Numero Group)
Best Jazz Album: Vijay Iyer and Wadada Leo Smith – A Cosmic Rhythm with Each Stroke (ECM)
Greatest Loss: Leonard Cohen, whose new music was as vital and important as his old.
Still Waiting For: (1) The first Langford Fest, offering only musical acts that feature Jon Langford. Plus an art fair featuring only work by Langford. (2) That new Kinks tour, already.
It’s been a depressing year, to say the least—from Bowie and Bernie Worrell to Alan Vega and Leonard Cohen—as journalists from No Depression and Blurt to Wikipedia and CNN have chronicled.
By Fred Mills
This time of year we typically publish a semi-comprehensive list of all the musicians who we lost in the year just finished, along with selected music industry and pop culture icons who also passed. Last week, though, the good folks at No Depressiontook care of the job so thoroughly that it’s unlikely we could do a better job. Check out their “In Memorian: 2016” list, and then by way of a salute to the compilers at ND, below you’ll find our adaptation of their list and several other lists we spotted online, and we’ve also made a number of additions of our own. We’ll update this as other omissions become known.
First, here are links to selected 2016 obituaries we published this year. Following that is the master list of passings. As I’ve said before, after you pay your own last respects, pledge to seek out those artists who are still with us and who are important to you, and let them know in some way how much you appreciate them.