2016 Review: Top 20 List (1-10)

p.s. this list has been running on CULT MTL for  couple weeks now

http://cultmontreal.com/2016/12/these-are-the-best-albums-of-2016/http://cultmontreal.com/2016/12/these-are-the-best-albums-of-2016/

1. Frank Ocean-Blonde 

Frank Ocean finally returns with a much more developed sound, one that clearly took all four of those years to craft.

Further Reading

2. Jessy Lanza, Oh No

Jessy Lanza keeps things fun, but pushes limits in dance-pop with experimental song-writing and sound effects.

Further Reading

3. Ida Toninato, Strangeness Is Gratitude

Toninato showcases her mastery of minimalism with an album that continues to enrich with each listen.

Further Reading

4. Mitski, Puberty 2

Mitski struggles to keep her head above water in a harrowing emotional journey.

Further Reading

5.Danny Brown, Atrocity Exhibition

Danny Brown provides a landscape as toxic as his xanax-induced lifestyle.

Further Reading

6. Sylvie Courvoisier, Mark Feldman, Evan Parker, Ikue Mori, Miller’s Tale

Absence of drums and structured meter and drum set go unnoticed in one of the mosty exciting jazz releases of the year.

Further Reading

7. Death Grips, Bottomless Pit

Death Grips add more to the greatest hits album with destructive ear worms.

Further Reading

8. Solange, A Seat at the Table

Solange offers an in-depth glance at her life while also crafting plenty of stand-out singles.

Further Reading

9. Okkyung Lee and Christian Marklay, Amalgam

Christian Marklay and Okkyung Lee capture the essence of improvised music with unique tools giving hope for the future.

Further Reading

10. Aaron Lumley, Anabasis/Katabasis

One of Montreal’s most exciting improvisers holds his own with raw bass mastery.

Further Reading

 

2016 Review: Top 20 List (11-20)

11. Angel Olsen-My Woman

A masterful rock album about keeping hold of yourself through struggles with relationships.

Further Reading

12. David Bowie-Blackstar

 Bowie’s final number.

Further Reading

13. The Range-Potential

A sample-based wonder that perfectly captures the anxiety of youth.

Further Reading

14. Steve Lehman-Selebeyone

A jazz/hip-hop album that balances both idioms effortlessly.

Further Reading

15. Mary Halvorson-Away With You

Halvorson’s chamber jazz compositional talents on full display to contrast last year’s solo effort.

Further Reading

16. Xarah Dion-Fugitive

Xarah Dion turns up the heat with heavy, punchy tunes.

17. Bobby Kapp and Matthew Shipp-Cactus

Masters of jazz duet in a place deeply rooted in jazz but void of limits.

Further Reading

18. A Tribe Called Red-We Are the Halluci Nation

Tribe Called Red return with their best songwriting effort to date.

Further Reading

19. A Tribe Called Quest-We Got it From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service

Tribe Called Quest honor Phife Dawg and remind us how important their sound is to the contemporary music ethos.

Further Reading

20. Tim Darcy and AJ Cornell-Too Significant to Ignore

Tim Darcy’s ought lyricism gets displaced in a sonic vacuum supplied by sound artist AJ Cornell.

Further Reading

2016 Review: Honorable Mentions

No Particular Order:

Weezer-self/titled (white album)

A sunny album that throws a little bit of pet sounds into the classic weezer mix.

Further Reading

Blood Quartet-Deep Red

No wave threw and threw with trumpet at the helm.

Further Reading

Kristoffer Lo-The Black Meat

A gloomy drone album that re-contextualizes the tuba with massive, electronic soundscapes coming into play at each climax.

Further Reading

Nao-For All We Know

A nonstop pop party.

Further Reading

Xenia Rubinos-Black Terry Cat

An amalgam of punk, soul, and hip-hop ethos with social awareness and charisma dripping down the walls of each track.

Further Reading

Jason Sharp-A Boat Upon Its Blood

cover

A dense experience that searches for resolution throughout.

Further Reading

Skepta-Konnichiwa

An album that never skips a beat, destroying the competition with each fiery verse.

Further Reading

Nick Fraser-Starer

A quick-hitting record that expertly navigates the space between planned and spontaneous.

Further Reading

Wadada Leo Smith and Vijay Iyer-a cosmic rhythm with each stroke

A striking duo project with an air of minimalism achieving an unexpected level of accessibility.

Further Reading

Braids-Companion EP

A necessary reiteration of the sounds of their 2015 record.

Further Reading

Blood Quartet-Deep Red: Album Review

With former Mars bassist Mark Cunningham taking up a quasi-front-man role on the trumpet, Blood Quartet certainly shoot for the essence of the No Wave movement.  Driving punk grooves, noisy freak outs and spacey jam sessions dominate the band’s work, shedding light on the multifaceted raw energy of underground spaces.  Obviously, the band has a bit of an advantage with their set-up.  Not a whole lot of groups out there take Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew and The Stooges’ Funhouse as their main influences, but Blood Quartet is more than a gimmick.  Throughout the 10 tracks, the album remains capturing and showcases a talented slew of collective improvisation capable of intriguing fans of both free-jazz and punk rock.

Both “Bloodlines” and “String Theory”—the first two tracks—favor a stagnant groove.  A dramatic bass loop enters first with drums, guitar, and trumpet all circulating the beat with improvised phrasing.  “String Theory” then quickens the tempo a bit with guitar and drums having a bit more of a specified part as reverb-drenched trumpet ideas fill space off in the distance.  Guitarist Lluis Rueda spends the entire track on edge with erratic chords exploding as the energy reaches its peak.  The album does well to leave the listener wanting more.  Although these first two tracks expose the group’s fire power, the band still holds back a little bit.  Then as the album pushes forward, anticipation becomes the main focus with spacey ploys warding off full on explosions for a later time.

“Only Lovers” comes first, slowing things down and mostly eliminating drums from the equation.  Cunningham’s trumpet is replaced with drummer Candid Coll’s eerie, intimate vocal styling as the droning guitar and bass maintain the haunting atmosphere with sparse melodic ideas.  Next comes a rather open jam session on “Dark Energy 74” before trumpet reclaims the position of centerpiece on the still open ended “Dragon Tree.”  Cunningham isn’t necessarily a flashy, vituosic player, but his ability to give the ensemble a direction is clear on this track.  Especially towards the end, it feels a bit like each of his ideas determine the next move of the other instrumentalists.  Quick scale motions into the upper register are followed by rapid fire drum punches and clouds of guitar distortion.  It’s interesting to hear this when the record is sounding particularly “free.”  More typical free jazz set-ups tend to value constant rearrangements of the hierarchy, but it seems that the group’s punk rock origins give them a natural tendency to find a rock set-up.  It’s nice to hear a clear sense of direction in the album on occasion.

“Blood House” heralds in a slight shift in direction.  The sludgy combination of Kike Bela’s bass and Coll’s tom drum find a pressing groove with a clear sense of meter.  Still aiming to create a feeling of anticipation, Rueda and Cunningham leave a great deal of space between their short phrases.  Next, the group hearkens back to the first pair of tracks with the slow “Soma” and the rambunctious “Fly Your Eyes.”  “Rare Doom 11” gives a little bit of relief before the fastest track “Gravity Pull” finishes the listener off.  As the first two tracks promised the record ends out with all of the group’s cards on the table in the form of quick, raw explosions.

Obviously Deep Red doesn’t necessarily have any standout tracks.  The group seems to plan out a sketch of direction with a few chords and a melodic idea and let their improvisation take over from there.  Also, the real impact in the band’s talents lies in their ability to play with space before revealing their most intense, explosive material, which requires a front to back listen.  However, between the expert collective improvisations and more front-man directed song structures, it’s clear that the musicians in Blood Quartet are more than just an aesthetic experiment, making for a solid work with a totally unique sound.

-Donovan Burtan

8/10

Great album.  Great band.

Adam Basanta-from here to there in one straight line: Album Review

Adam Basanta is a Montreal-based artist who works both in the recorded music realm and the sound art installation side of town.  It seems that Basanta’s art projects have given him a unique aesthetic space to work with in his musical efforts.  Rather than always constructing a piece intended to be heard front to back, art installations find small pieces of sound in creative ways to later put on display.  When carrying this experience to his more intentionally composed music pieces, Basanta is still influenced by intriguing sound effects and textures.  Similarly to his last Kohlenstoff records release “Memory is the Residue of Thought,” “from here to there in one straight line” finds Basanta working with sound effects and small noise samples to develop ideas over ominous drones.

Bookended by “before” and “after” tracks, the heavy experience of the title track is given context by minimalist bursts of noise.  For just a moment, the high-frequency rhythmic device so rampant in “from here to there in one straight line” is isolated on “Before.”  Then, after the rather intense final push to end the 21-minute centerpiece, Basanta offers a bit more breathing room to the listener with a spacey two minutes of white noise.  Obviously the title-track is where the heart of the album lies, however, its impact is made a bit more satisfying with these framing devices.

As far as “from here to there” goes, the track basically builds two climaxes, one at the seven-minute mark and another just before the ending.  First Basanta offers a stagnant drone with textural electric shocks at the melodic level.  Throughout the build, Basanta is continuously adding layers, but rather than quickly piling on a noises, there’s more of an effort to adapt the listener to each new sound.  Each addition to the foundation of the track slowly blends into the background.  This makes the new elements stick out a bit more and the sudden drop at the climaxes of the track more intense as the listener is reminded of just how many sound effects Basanta has piled upon them.

After the first structure of “from here to there” collapses, the first sounds of the track are left alone with aquatic undertones.  Slowly the entire track pauses at around the nine-minute mark for complete silence.  The second major build of the track seems to value pitch-based sounds over rhythm and texture.  Circulating drones fade into the picture ever so slowly for nine or ten minutes with rattling high frequency electronics adding to the shimmering distortion and lower bass tones bottoming things out.  Basanta’s ability to develop and build sounds truly keeps the work capturing throughout.

Despite the slight lean towards pitch rather than texture in the second part of the “from here to there,” Basanta still plays with a lot of the same general effects on both sides of this track.  It feels a bit more like a reorganization than a contrasting approach.  This contributes to the work’s somewhat lacking emotional focus.  Basanta’s high pitched, textural sounds are generally quite bright, and the drones are generally dark or even just emotionally sterile.  It would probably do Basanta well to commit a bit more to one emotional state at a time.  I imagine that if the first side of the track played around with brightness and the second took a turn for brooding darkness, the album would see a bit more of an emotional impact.

Adam Basanta is certainly a fantastic artist with a unique niche in experimental and drone music.  “from here to there in one straight line” surprises from beginning to end with expert layering and development.  The work could do a bit more to find specific moods and emotions, but it’s certainly worth a listen and I expect more great work from him in the future.

-Donovan Burtan

7/10

Basanta’s got a knack for playing with the listener’s ear, I think a bit more commitment to a specific mood could increase the emotional impact.