Best of 2016: Top Ten Albums

I don’t always do one of these lists at the end of the year, because I’m old and lazy and I don’t think anybody really cares what I think, and all this needless self-deprecation is no-doubt making you sick. The main thing you need to know is that I did one of these this year, and this is it.

2016 was a tough year (hot take, I know), but some very good music rose out of the carbonated black horror of populist reactionaries and their taking the wheel of Western civilisation and swerving into oncoming traffic. Who’d have thunk, all it took for fascism to rise again was a looming refugee crisis and a pack of malicious self-interested shit stirrers preying on the wilful ignorance of idiots.

Anyway… Music, huh? That’s still good sometimes.

It wasn’t too hard to draw up a long list, but I am loath to arbitrarily put things in order. My long-list was about 6-7 albums short of where it ought to have been due to extensive travel, broken headphones, and an intense malaise about the future of Western civilisation. But in the new year I will catch up with the new Run the Jewels, A Tribe Called Quest (RIP Phife), and of course my annual care package from Montréal’s finest, Constellation Records.

Anyway, that’s enough faffing about. Here are ten records that came out in 2016, that I loved in 2016:

  • Death Grips – Bottomless Pit
  • Christine & the Queens – Chaleur Humaine (English version)
  • Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
  • clipping. – Splendor & Misery
  • Kayo Dot – Plastic House on Base of Sky
  • David Bowie – Blackstar
  • Mamiffer – The World Unseen
  • Paul Simon – Stranger to Stranger
  • Disasterpeace – Hyper Light Drifter (soundtrack)
  • Ben Babbitt – Kentucky Route Zero – Act IV (soundtrack)

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Travel Report: Richmond (or What is Art?) Richmond, Virgina, USA (Jan 2016)

(note: Yes, I know, it’s been a while, because I’m lazy. Enough. Let’s get to it.)

I have a rather naïve and romantic notion of “discovering” each place I travel to. Too much planning takes the fun out of life, don’t you think?

The extent of my planning in this instance was that there was an HI hostel in Richmond, and the blurb suggested that Richmond was a cool city on the rise. Plus, I’d never been to Virginia before.

As I rolled into Richmond on a Megabus from Washington en una noche de viernes de enero, I didn’t even know how to get to the hostel from the bus depot. Meaningless details, who needs them? I dragged my bag onto a local bus and made it work. Despite all evidence to the contrary, I am a semi-functional adult human being.

I had only planned to stay for two nights in the city. At the hostel, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) was recommended to me. With my phone predicting snow, I figured this might be a good plan of action.

So in the morning, I headed out into the world, greeted by the joyous sting of fresh snowflakes blowing in my face and my eyes. After about a 45 minute casual stroll in what I was only 70% sure was the right direction, I did indeed stumble across the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, which was a little larger than I had expected.

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Oh, by the way, the acronym for Plastic House on Base of Sky is PHOBOS, which I'm sure you realise is the larger of the two moons of Mars.

Kayo Dot – Plastic House on Base of Sky The Flenser, 2016

Plastic House on Base of Sky is the latest release from Kayo Dot, which is the primary musical vehicle of one Toby Driver, a multi-instrumentalist composer of non-idiomatic rock music. The band formed in the early 21st century from the ashes of equally ambitious progressive metal band maudlin of the Well. They have since pirouetted deftly along an unpredictable path of inspiration, with an ever-shifting lineup of players and instruments in tow.

Kayo Dot is one of those bands that never releases the same album twice. That being said, 2014’s Coffins on Io was as defiant a departure from their earlier work as the band has ever produced. It’s also arguably the most accessible and immediately enjoyable of Kayo Dot’s panoramic output – its dark Gothic sci-fi moods being tempered by glassy synths, infectious heavy grooves, and theatrically inflected vocals.

Plastic House on Base of Sky represents a logical step forward, and a sudden sharp plunge into stranger, illuminated waters. It ploughs a narrower, deeper furrow.

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EU Referendum

Well, not much to say. I’ve been watching from Christchurch, New Zealand. All the votes are now in. It’s over, and we’re out.

Very mixed feelings. As much as this was a vote for the UK to leave the EU, it may also have been a proxy vote for Scotland to leave the UK, and perhaps Northern Ireland as well.

62% of Scotland voted to remain. A majority in every voting constituency.

eu results
Results from the BBC. This is not a map of a “united” kingdom.

We live in interesting times.

Playlist (Jun 3rd 2016)

Yeah I know, I’m five months behind on the travel reports. I’ll get back to those shortly.

In the meantime, here’s something I’m sure you care about just as much – what I’ve been listening to over the month or so.

  • Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
  • Death Grips – Bottomless Pit
  • John Grant  – Pale Green Ghosts
  • Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest
  • Mamiffer – The Unseen World
  • The National – Cherry Tree
  • Beck – Sea Change
  • Jean Michel Jarre – Équinoxe
  • Disasterpeace – Hyper Light Drifter (soundtrack)
  • Philip Glass – Koyaanisqatsi (soundtrack)
  • Ben Babbitt – Kentucky Route Zero (soundtrack)
Michael Whelan's cover art for the final book.

The Dark Tower

Well, I finished Stephen King’s The Dark Tower.

I read slowly. Well, no, I read at a reasonably normal pace, it’s just that I don’t read very often. The desire to read is a very sporadic thing for me. It’s taken me 5 years and 5 months to get through these seven books, and although that’s not the 20+ years it took King to write them, I still feel the weight of all that time spent living with these characters and this story.

For the record, I am almost entirely satisfied by how it all shook out in the end. I even forgive King his increasing indulgences as the story progressed, because what is creative writing but an indulgence in the first place?

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