Top 12 Albums 2016

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Here’s my Favorite 12 Albums of 2016.

12 because 10 isn’t ever enough, and “favorite” (as opposed to “best”) because objectivity in art is impossible.

There are a lot of albums from 2016 that I didn’t listen to, and a lot of other albums that I heard once but never spent time with, so expect plenty of 2016 music to trickle out here in the next several months. I don’t make definitive lists because I change my mind too much, but this is stuff I have listened to the most over the last year.

(presented in alphabetical order)

The Avalanches – Wildflower (Apple Music, Spotify)
(from Ryan’s Music Picks: 11 July 2016) This is only their second proper album but so far I love it, from the Biz Markie song The Noisy Eater to some of the quieter interlude bits. It’s heavy-sampled and heavily tropical with that same perfect nostalgia/sadness feeling that Pet Sounds really perfectly handles. This was the band I discovered when I first got into new music after high school and they remain one of my favorites of all time.

Beyonce – Lemonade (iTunes (for purchase)Tidal)
A ton of amazing music was released this year. When it comes to Tidal-exclusives from legendary artists, Beyonce has Kanye beat, hands down. It’s packed with perfect tracks that push the boundaries of pop music into new and exciting places. It’s pretty inescapable and that’s for good reason.

Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book (DatPiff, Apple Music, Spotify)
I mentioned Kanye above, and Chance had a crucial role in the single best Kanye song from this year, but then his 3rd mixtape (album? I get that it’s…not, but maybe we should just call them albums at this point?) blew The Life of Pablo out of the water. Chance stretches his style in this mixtape, trying different styles and cadences while he matches with his guests. His voice is versatile, both as a rapper and singer as well as his voice as a writer. His exuberance is infectious, and this mixtape gets better with each listen.

clipping. – Splendor & Misery (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
(from Ryan’s Music Picks 14 September 2016) This is a hell of an incredible album. It’s a dark afrofuturist science fiction story, told by insanely precise, heavily rhythmic raps over avant-noise soundscapes. It’s unquestionably the evolution of noise-hop, and a clear next step from the noisy Cannibal Ox – The Cold Vein, and afrofuturist scifi rap of Deltron 3030.

DM Stith – Pigeonheart (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
(from Ryan’s Music Picks: 1 August 2016) This is, without question, a headphones album. I tried listening to it a few times this week in the car with kids and playing out of the speaker of my phone and I was not moved. Then, after the kids were all asleep, I donned my preferred listening headphones (Sony MDRZX110 – less than $15 on Amazon) and this album exploded before me into sound-shapes and mind-colors or something. Stith’s trademark haunting ghost vocals are there, backed by a dazzling array of sounds both organic and synthetic. This album is deep, unfolding with multiple listens, and it somehow stays unpredictable, like some sort of weird audio fractal. Highly recommended.

Eola – Dang (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
(from Ryan’s Music Picks: 12 October 2016) This is absolutely my favorite album that I’ve stumbled upon recently. I saw it described on twitter as “lo-fi droney gospel” and I flipped out–I am the exact target market for that. It’s gorgeous and meditative at times, and playful and honestly pretty dorky at other times. But I’m in love hardcore with this record. I will be listening to this for a while.

Helado Negro – Private Energy (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
(from Ryan’s Music Picks: 12 October 2016) I have a confession: I love Helado Negro’s music. I mean, I guess it’s not much of a confession, but every single thing that Roberto Lange has released as Helado Negro has gripped me and I am a buy-every-album fan for life at this point. This album, his fifth full-length (there are also several EPs), really exhibits his growth in songcraft. There’s still the dense electro-acoustic production, and the psychedelic interludes, but everything (even the songs en Español) are so much more singalongable this time around.

Jamila Woods – HEAVN (only on Soundcloud)
(from Ryan’s Music Picks: 18 July 2016) If, like me, you’re into Chance The Rapper, you probably will recognize Jamila Woods’ voice. She is the driving force of Sunday Candy and Blessings (I) and her solo album is incredible even given the high expectations I had going into it. It turns out that she is a poet and playwright in her spare time, and that’s hardly a surprise after listening to the album. It’s a free download from soundcloud and you should absolutely not sleep on this.

Justice – Woman (Apple Music, Spotify)
(from Ryan’s Music Picks 23 November 2016) Justice is one of my favorite French electronic music duos (along with Daft Punk and Air), and I think they’ve gotten better with each album. Though they have mostly abandoned the dirty, noisy version of French Touch house music that made them huge, their focus on combining 70s rock and disco continues to pay off. A perfect steering wheel tapper for LA traffic.

Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 3 (free download on runthejewels.com, Apple Music, Spotify)
With this third album, Mike and El have cemented themselves in the list of greatest rap duos of all time. They’re still angry and they drop more knowledge in a verse than most rappers do in a whole album. El-P’s production is still singularly top-notch and neck-snapping, too. It’s the kind of album that you put on when you need to feel like you can throw refrigerators through walls.

Sound of Ceres – Nostalgia for Infinity (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
It’s weird how sometimes you find a band who make music just for you. Sound of Ceres hits that sweet spot for me that’s right between tiki-bar-era tropical exotica, shoegaze with whispery feminine vocals, warm ambient noise, and perfect-chorus pop songwriting. The music is so inviting, and it reaches right into my heart like little else. I want to live inside of their songs.

TW Walsh – Fruitless Research (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
TW Walsh is a hell of a songwriter, and I’ve been a big fan of his work with Pedro the Lion, with David Bazan, with The Soft Drugs, and on his solo albums. But this time, he’s augmented his sound with some noisy synths and other experimental elements, and it really makes a big difference to me. The sonic textures on this album really highlight his songwriting skills and production knowledge. I bought this on tape and couldn’t stop listening for months.

Comic Books Out 7, 14, 21 October 2015

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Butter and Blood (Steven Weissman) [Retrofit]

A collection of short stories, mini comics, zine entries, designs, sketches, etc. put together by an individual with impeccable taste and style. The art here ranges (as you’d imagine) from loose sketchbook pages to photoshop-clean but keeps a scratchy, human quality that also bleeds into the pathos of some of the shorts. There’s plenty of humor, too, particularly a series of escalating gags revolving around Guns ‘n’ Roses and food.

Ikebana (Yumi Sakugawa) [Retrofit]

An art-comic in the sense that it’s about an art student and her performance-art final project, the frame of the story works to address issues of life, gender, family, harassment, and human connection. With a spare art style that rests comfortably somewhere between naive and minimal, there’s still enough interesting detail to necessitate a deeper look, especially in the crowded scenes.

Jughead #1 (Chip Zdarsky and Erica Henderson) [Archie]

If you’re not familiar with the strange and silly antics of cartoonist alter-ego Chip Zdarsky, you should know that his placement as writer of Jughead is one of those “on the nose” picks. Jughead’s relaunch is properly focused on cheeseburgers, with a healthy dose of friendship, video games and epic fantasy (and Game of Thrones references). This book is literally laugh out loud funny, and Henderson’s cartoony faces perfectly mesh with the silliness within.

Paper Girls #1 (Brian K. Vaughn and Cliff Chiang) [Image]

One of my favorite single issues this year, hands down. We’re talking about this on the next episode of Four Color Commentary, so I’ll save my thoughts for the show.

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Comic Books Out 2 October

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Bizarro #4

I was not 100% in love with this book at first, to be perfectly honest. I love that each issue has a guest artist for one illustration (this issue has a Darwyn Cooke-drawn Zatanna poster!) But the story, while fun and light-hearted, and the art, though loose and cartoony, have both been a bit on the weak side. But darn it, I keep getting sucked into this book, with its deep, deep DC universe references and it’s heartfelt emotional appeal. I’m bummed that it looks like the next issue is the last one.

Jem and the Holograms: Outrageous Annual #1

I bought this for my seven year old daughter and, to be honest, she hasn’t really let me get my hands on it. It’s a framing story of a slumber party for the Holograms (though they’re sisters who live together) where they all have different dreams. The dreams include a horror movie/teen wolf homage, a Mad Max mashup, a riff on Star Wars, and of course Jem and the Hologram babies. It’s fun and looks great! I just wish that it was a bit cheaper; it’s relatively short and nearly $8! (Maybe I’m just spoiled with Island’s page count at the same price point.)

Unbeatable Squirrel Girl #3

Ryan North, writer of Squirrel Girl (and the early issues of Adventure Time, The Midas Flesh, and Dinosaur Comics) is one of my all-time favorite internet people. His writing style somehow is one of the smartest and silliest, simultaneously. I love Erica Henderson’s cartoony art, I think it fits the book perfectly. This book does for the Marvel universe what the Bizarro book tries to do for DC. It’s a lot more fun and exciting though.

From Under Mountains #1

This book, written by Marian Churchland and Claire Gibson and with art from Sloane Leong, exists in the same universe as the 8House series, and it will eventually cross over. It’s beautifully, dreamily-drawn high fantasy that starts right in the middle of things with no explanation whatsoever. I’m still sucked in and planning to keep reading, but some of this book is a bit impenetrable. That stabby ghost monster, though. I can’t wait for more.

Godzilla in Hell #3

This series is a treat. It’s just wall-to-wall action of Godzilla battling and destroying monsters. This one has a crazy crystal-infected moon Godzilla (uh, I don’t know much Godzilla lore) battling our hero and it’s crazy. It’s crazy!

Over the Garden Wall #2

The Over the Garden Wall animated television miniseries is really an incredible achievement in American animation and this book is perfectly timed for this fall. Series writer Patrick McHale expands the show with a great side story from a formerly-honest horse that gets right into that sweet spot between funny and spooky without being too obvious about it.

Comic Books Out 23 September

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Wolf #3

I am enjoying this book a lot. It’s a true crime/seedy criminal underworld kind of book, set in modern Los Angeles. Pretty standard except there are vampires and Chthonic dudes and maybe even the antichrist. It’s slowly unraveling in a way that just keeps sucking me in and I’m stoked to see what’s going to happen. The art effectively uses negative space in a very LA kind of way, and the linework is clear and strong. The colors are spectacular as well.

The Spire #2

The super incredible team who made one of my favorite recent books (Six Gun Gorilla) are building a weird fantasy/scifi universe not unlike 8House. As usual, the art is excellent, and really sells the grotesqueries of the hybrid humans and strange cyborg creatures. It’s framed as a police story, but there’s a lot going on here with class and race and political intrigue.

We Are Robin #4

I bought this issue mostly because of James Harvey’s incredible art. He has a great eye for  over-saturated pop art with a manga flair, and he’s been involved with character design in the We Are Robin series since the beginning. We Are Robin as a book is interesting; it focuses on street-level heroes dealing with the aftermath of the post-Bruce Wayne Gotham City. It nicely ropes in the various political viewpoints that vigilante justice tends to bring up while still roping in a lot of the modern DC universe Bat-family.

Power Up #3

It’s been crazy seeing the rise of girl hero groups in American pop culture, especially in the last couple of years. Sailor Moon (the canonical example) has been around for ages and it’s popped into the zeitgeist a few times, but it’s inspired a ton of awesome cartoons: The Powerpuff Girls and Steven Universe are two of the best. Now, that style that started in Japanese manga and then moved to anime, then came to the US and into American-made cartoons is finally filtering back into comics. Power Up is one of the best of the bunch. It ropes in characters who are personable and human and puts them in highly dramatic and extremely silly situations. 💖

Comic Books Out 16 September 2015

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A bit late.

Southern Cross #5

Southern Cross is an incredibly-drawn psychedelic murder-mystery in space. The basic story is that of a woman aboard a vessel trying to investigate the mysterious death/disappearance of her estranged sister. There’s plenty of drama and intrigue of the regular human and of the supernatural/science fiction type, and it’s all combined with a sensation creeping dread that takes a bit from Alien but mostly veers towards the unknowable like Del Toro likes to hint at. I can’t wait until the conclusion next month.

Prez #4

Beth Ross is now finally president, and she’s picking her chiefs of staff, who include people like her anti-establishment high school civics teacher, and her no-nonsense boss from Lil’ Doggies House of Corndogs. There’s also a horrific crisis caused by military overreach that will probably track through the end of this book, which it sounds like is coming far too quickly. Please buy this book!

Jem and The Holograms #7

A rebuilding issue for the Jems, where they deal with the practical side of the band and its fame as well as begin to rebuild relationships. A transitional issue, but still tons of fun.

Age of Reptiles: Ancient Egyptians #4

I can’t believe I only recently found out about the long-running Age of Reptiles series. They’re lush, wordless comics featuring dinosaurs. How did 12-year-old me never find out about this?! Honestly, I could stare at this book for days.

Island Comics Magazine #3

Island is a gift to comics fans. It’s put together by Brandon Graham and Emma Rios and it features incredible creators putting out awesome work. I love love love anthology books. You get a bunch of different stories all in one package; there’s always something to surprise you. The story that bowled me over this time was Matt Sheean and Malachi Ward’s Ancestor (part 1). It conveys an anxiety and uneasiness that is tough to reproduce and goes right for the throat, forcing you to look at yourself critically if you’re a chronic smartphone user like me. The art is clear, iconic and evocative in a way that gives a sense of space and life into emotionally charged situations. I guess that makes Ancestor sound tense, but to me it was a fresh plunge into a world that I can’t wait to read more about.

Prestige Format Guide to Upcoming Releases, Early 2015

Lots of music that’s coming out that I am excited about!

January

1/13

  • Panda Bearvs. The Grim Reaper — I loved Person Pitch and was less enthused by Tomboy. The prerelease mix and EP have skewed pretty beat-heavy, so I’m excited.
  • Teen DazeA World Away EP — The two tracks released are the two sides of classic Teen Daze; one is nicely dancey and the other is coolly ambient. Preorder here.

1/20

  • The Decemberists – What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World — New Decemberists yay! They have a just-odd-enough video (with Nick Offerman) that points to a more 70s-influenced sound.
  • Sleater-KinneyNo Cities to Love — You have to be excited about this. It’s required if you like “indie rock”.

1/27

  • Bjørn TorskeNedi Myra/Trøbbel Reissues — This dude is a predecessor to Lindstrom and Todd Terje and it’s exciting to see these hard to find albums reissued.
  • Mark RonsonUptown Special — Mark Ronson making pop music is a sign that the world is still not completely garbage. [[update: out now on iTunes]]

February

2/10

  • Father John MistyI Love You, Honeybear — I’m pretty sick of Tillman’s schtick at this point, but I’m definitely not at all sick of his songwriting or music. It’s a weird place to be.

2/24

March

3/3

  • HeemsEat Pray Thug — I really like listening to Heems rapping. His flow drifts easily between hyper-articulate, swagger, and hazy silliness in a way that I just can’t get enough of.
  • Purity RingAnother Eternity — Just announced! Heavy electronics with gorgeous lilting vocals. Check out a new song here.

3/17

  • Twin ShadowEclipse — His last album, Confess, is one of my all-time favorite albums. I can’t wait to hear more from Twin Shadow.

3/23

  • The Go! TeamThe Scene Between — The Go! Team hits this perfect joyful/nostalgic balance that you can’t stop listening to. If their first single is any indication, this new album (the first in a while) is refocused but still exuberant.

3/31

  • Sufjan StevensCarrie & Lowell — The press line on this new Sufjan release is that it’s a return to folkier, quieter sounds. It’s a welcome announcement.

No Date

  • Anamanaguchi — There’s a hint of something on the video for the PC Music-influenced single Pop It that appeared mysteriously last year. My soul is prepared.

Free Music Roundup

I love free music! Especially free music that is being handed out legally and with love. A ton of good stuff has come out recently! Check it out:

2014 was a great year for (free) label compilations. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Ghostly International x Adult Swim presents Ghostly Swim 2 — Mostly ambient electronic noise with beats.
  • Noumenal Loom Compilation 1 — Georgia underground label specializing in haunted electronic tones and quiet guitar compositions.
  • Secret Songs shh#ffb6c1 — This was one of my favorite albums of 2014. I said A compilation from Ryan Hemsworth’s Secret Songs netlabel, these songs all feel like the future to me.
  • Asthmatic Kitty Digital Sampler, Autumn 2014 — AK consistently put out some of my favorite music. Label run by Sufjan Stevens.
  • Flannelgraph Records Winter Sampler 2014-2015 — I was not prepared for the quiet greatness in this group of tunes.
  • DFA Records Holiday Remix EP — When some of my favorites (Sinkane) are remixed by some of my other favorites (Busy P, CFCF), everyone wins.

Towards the end of 2014, while I was still in my Christmas music hole, I found that a few cool free EPs came out, too:

  • SpineePretty Green — From PC Music, this is over the top electronic glory with a remix from Anamanaguchi!
  • Leno Love CraftPlatinum Planet EP — From Secret Songs, this gets that PC Music vibe and adds a 90s R&B/Sega Game Soundtrack feel.
  • Chindamohere+there EP — Charming and chiming, this self-released debut EP should warm your chill heart.
  • Via VegrandisJil Sent Me/Birds To Me — A cover of a forgotten song (by Mortal) and a new romantic standout.

There some good stuff out that you can pay for, too. Here’s some recent good stuff you might have missed:

  • GeoticSunset Mountain (Eon Isle) — Part of Baths’ ambient Geotic project, the Eon Isle series of albums focuses on a single instrument. The Sunset Mountain installment is all voices, and sounds, according to a twitter friend, “like the music they must have in Rivendell”. $7
  • Vapor LanesA Thin Film — Violent noise coalesces into beautiful melodies and gives you feelings. $7
  • Solid Mas/Jim GuthrieOne Of These Days I’ll Get It Right — Beatmaker Solid Mas takes Jim Guthrie’s music from the Swords & Sworcery Soundtrack, the Indie Game: The Movie Soundtrack, among others, and gives them the blender treatment. Fans of Jim Guthrie will obviously be into it, as will fans of sample-masters like Prefuse 73 and The Avalanches, but anyone who likes good things will dig this. $5.99 CAD

 

 

Favorite Albums, 2014

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These aren’t necessarily the “best” albums that came out last year, but they’re definitely the ones I’ve listened to the most. Alphabetically:

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Station ID: January 2015 Edition

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Hi, I’m Ryan.

I’m on twitter and instagram.

I have a wordpress blog and a tumblr where I talk music and comics.

I do some podcasts:

For a few years, I wrote reviews of free music at Melodic Expectation. Go there to find free music.

Media, September 2014

Inspired by posts like this from guys like Sean Witzke, here’s the media I consumed in September:

FILM

  1. Tangled (2010)
  2. The Lone Ranger* (2013)
  3. Equilibrium* (2002)
  4. Monsters University (2013)
  5. Toy Story shorts (Hawaiian Vacation, Small Fry, Partysaurus Rex and Toy Story of Terror) (2011-2013)
  6. Gnomeo & Juliet (2011)
  7. Enchanted (2007)
  8. Toy Story 2 (1999)
  9. Swiss Family Robinson** (1960)
  10. Lego: The Adventures of Clutch Powers** (2010)
  11. Joseph: King of Dreams** (2000)
  12. Speed Racer (2008)
  13. Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)
  14. National Treasure* (2004)
  15. The Phantom* (1996)
  16. The Pirates! Band of Misfits (2012)
  17. Monsters, Inc. (2001)
  18. Spirited Away (2001)
  19. Pixar Short Film Collection Vol. 1 (2007)
  20. Castle in the Sky (1986)
  21. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (2009)
  22. Wreck-it Ralph (2012)
  23. The Mummy* (1999)
  24. Blade* (1998)

*For Super Action Bros
**On Netflix

TV

  1. Star Trek: The Next Generation (Season 7)
  2. Doctor Who (Series 8)
  3. Steven Universe (Season 1)

BOOKS

  1. Sin City: the Hard Goodbye by Frank Miller***
  2. Demeter by Becky Cloonan***
  3. The Mire by Becky Cloonan
  4. Wolves by Becky Cloonan
  5. Storm #1 by Greg Pak and Victor Ibanez***
  6. Suicide Risk #1 by Mike Carey and Elena Casagrande***
  7. The Multiversity #1 by Grant Morrison and Ivan Reis***
  8. The Midas Flesh (complete) by Ryan North, Shelli Paroline and Braden Lamb***
  9. Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley
  10. Silver Surfer: Parable by Stan Lee and Moebius***
  11. Fatherhood by Ryan K Lindsay and Daniel Schneider***
  12. The Iron West by Douglas TenNapel***
  13. Nailbiter #1 by Joshua Williamson and Mike Henderson***
  14. The Five Fists of Science by Matt Fraction and Steven Sanders***

***For Four Color Commentary