The Space Monkeys: My favorite albums and songs that I discovered in 2016

Okay, I know these types of posts usually pop up at the end of December but here’s my year-end list. The following are albums and songs that were both highly enjoyable and impacted me deeply this past year. They’re not limited to releases that came out in 2016, only albums that I discovered in 2016. They’re in no particular order, minus my Album of the Year, Song of the Year, and EP of the Year.

And if I’m giving out these awards, they’re going to be a name. Given my musical pseudonym, I’m calling these the Space Monkeys!

So let’s get into it!

Let’s start with albums:

THE ALBUM OF THE YEAR

There is No Devil by Giraffe

I can’t say enough about this album. It’s by far the most impactful record I’ve heard this year and is one of the best I’ve ever encountered. Each song is is coated in intensely visual lyrics with instrumentals that split them like the branches to form a deeply rooted tree of the loathing, wallowing, break up that is this album. I can’t even think about There Is No Devil without getting butterflies in my stomach.

It’s a truly special piece that grew heavily on me; in a sense the narrative of the album reflects that in it’s tortured message of patience and personal growth.

Every now and then an album becomes gives me such a visceral experience that it clearly represents an element. To me, There Is No Devil is earth.

This album from 2010 is definitely my 2016 album of the year.

OTHER ALBUMS OF THE YEAR

Ugly Boy by Michael Seyer

I caught this one on a Bandcamp recommendation page. Ugly Boy is an album that I instantly fell in love with. It’s such a colorful yet bleak record that absolutely destroys my heart every time I give it a spin. The sampling on Ugly Boy was surprisingly effective; classic drug PSA’s and goofy skits that add a sense of humor to this depressed debut.

Black Tomb by Black Tomb

A strong alternative to Electric Wizard, Black Tomb’s self-titled LP grips your ears and drags you through its muddy pastures. Ripe with head-banging riffs and raw vocals, Black Tomb revels in seemingly endless hook that get grimier with each strum. I’ve put this album on countless times and it never loses its zeal. Black Tomb doesn’t necessarily do anything new or experimental on their self-titled release but they don’t need to. To doom metal they are what Tame Impala is to psychedelic rock: a band that pulls of the fundamentals of the genre with such finesse, energy and passion that they make it their own. These guys were born to make doom metal.

Coma Witch by The Acacia Strain

Warning: this is a one-tone record. There’s not a lot of range, the band essentially packs the same present on each song emotionally. Nevertheless, they are all presents. I put this one on for just about every occasion: working out, commuting, relaxing at home, you name it. That contrasts weirdly with what I just said, right? Well, it’s a weird record I can bathe in the anger that is this album — the frustration is so delicious here, but songs about stabbing a woman with a kitchen knife contracted with the lispy screaming on some of the songs is fucking hilarious in the most intense way possible. It’s almost whimsical. I’m confident that this is not the intended reaction The Acacia Strain were going for, but you get what you get out of it and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Side note: “VVorld Demise” sonically remind me of Rage Against The Machine, while the majority of the album feels like a blunt version of Acid Bath.

Circumambulation by True Widow

Dallas band True Widow makes high quality goth music. Yep. They’re not goth, I’m not goth, you’re (probably) not goth, but their music is so fucking goth. Circumambulation is what Jack White might turn doom metal into. It’s full of stoney riffs that repeat and repeat, not going anywhere but not needing to. At first the lyrics seemed fairly disconnected and even a bit esoteric but it eventually clicked that it’s a concept album about BDSM, particularly femdom as the female vocalist commands the male subservient who carries out the duties he’s supposed to. That also makes the title makes a ton of sense (circumambulation meaning the act of moving around a sacred object as part of devotional practice). If that don’t scream good ol’ fashioned Satal Masocihsm I don’t know what does my friend.

I’ve easily listened to this project dozens of times. I’m enamored with it as it’s always a good noise filter when I have a blank, wandering mind or want to process thoughts.

Congratulations On Your Loss by Father Figure

This one was a lot of fun. Congratulations On Your Loss is very much a jazz rock answer to newer progressive genres, particularly post-rock and post-metal. The best way I could describe this album is a gradient of jazz to funk, with all sort of unexpected turns in between. Those turns weren’t ever unsettling; they only served to increase the danceability of this record. I found myself agreeing with every tonal shift in this album, I thought their arrangements were quite unique and created from musicians with (obviously) great instincts.

In The Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel

In The Aeroplane Over the Sea is a pretty famous record; it’s got a fairly large cult fan base. It’s a heartbreaking album I only appreciated more when I dug into the real motivating factors. Instead of spilling the beans I’m going to challenge you to look into it over yourself (we’re talking going beyond the Anne Frank stuff); it makes Jeff Mangum’s masterpiece that much more special. Something to note here is the beauty of imperfection on this record. Mangum’s vocals aren’t always on pitch and the instrumentals are far from groundbreaking (minus the electric saw maybe), but raw emotion and genuine passion (something that elevates any form of art) shine through making it a hauntingly beautiful listen.

Blue Record by Baroness

Baroness was a great 2016 find for me, recommended by my dad. As of today I’ve listened to Purple and Green/Yellow, but Blue Record suits my personal tastes the best of those three. The band maintains a driving mantra without bludgeoning the listener. There are moments on this record that are atmospherically expansive, giving the overall punch of this album a bit of a swivel. Baroness makes the most of their hard sound on this album without making it feel like an obligation. In hard rock/metal/whatever you want to call them that’s a rarity, and they are to be applauded for that feat.

Savage Gold by Tombs

I saw Tombs open up for Pelican a few years ago when they were touring this album. I’d always meant to give it a listen, but put it off until this year. I’m going to be honest: I didn’t like this record at all when I first heard it. It felt very base with little to dig into. Surprisingly, I found myself having the urge to listen again and again. I ended up getting a whole lot out of it. Its minimalism heightened the sonic brutality that is Savage Gold. Parts of the album, particularly “Seance”, are completely based around adrenaline — I found myself picturing hunting prey on foot when this song was on. Tombs delivered concise punch with this one.

In Silence We Yearn by Oh Hiroshima

I’ve listened to a LOT of post-rock and a LOT of atmospheric instrumentals. There’s a lot of it out there and most of it sounds practically identical. Bands like Deafhaven and Cloudkicker have helped shape and popularize a genre that by and large sounds like replicas of their work. When I first picked up Oh Hiroshima’s work (blindly, might I add. I got it on impulse) I was mildly expecting another bland, passable instrumental-heavy album that would serve as mediocre background music as I lived my daily life. I was incredibly shocked after the opening predictable ethereal riff from Ellipse (the first track) got cut into by some of the most soul-crushing guitars I’ve ever heard. I remember immediately feeling like I was looking down at my life in the third person as that part of the song erupted. The album never let up from there, being consistently impressively chaotic and innovative throughout. I looked into the band’s background and it seems they’ve gotten some attention out there which is well deserved. I highly recommend giving this one a listen.

Wincing The Night Away by The Shins

’Tis no secret: I adore The Shins. This year I picked up their third record Wincing The Night Away, which felt like an amalgamation of all of their best qualities mixed with sonic ventures of dipping their toes into new genres.

Low Estate by 16 Horsepower

What I can most compare Low Estate to in my lexicon of music is a rock-oriented Scroat Belly. They put together a diverse, brooding record in their sophomore effort that stands out as the crown jewel of gothic country.

Blonde by Frank Ocean

As I write this I still wrestle with the album. The lyrics are an obvious cut above any mainstream record released this year, production the first half of the album only adds to this. Midway though there’s a large drop off for me. I’m all for sad and emotional (hell, you could even categorize this one as emo) LPs but the second half loses momentum fast. The beat on “Pretty Sweet” just feels… corny, “Close to You” has to be unfinished, “White Ferrari” starts off with some pretty interesting ideas but squables into a bland bleakness that stays for the final three tracks.

And then I connected to it. I had some shit go down in my personal life and felt an insatiable urge to listen to Blonde. I kept listening and listening and it only got better and better. I focused greatly on the lyrics, which provided an insane amount of depth that was clothed by production that often provided double-meanings for songs (“Close To You” in particular). When my personal circumstances mirrored Ocean’s mental state during this album it absolutely blossomed into something so special and so personal.

EP OF THE YEAR

Awaken by Bestir

Brutality? Fuck yeah. The best EP I’ve heard this year comes from sludge metal outfit Bestir, who open up Awaken with a long clip from an interview radical christian child brainwasher. The heaviness of this album is a forced to be reckoned with, as we get to yell at this woman for the entire thirteen minutes of this album (sure, it’s not all directly on her but the subject matter is clearly themed here). I often started my workouts with this EP this past year, and plan on continuing to do so into 2017.

THE SONG OF THE YEAR

“Cool Things” by Bear State

I’ve been following Bear State for a few years. While they have yet to pull out a full album, this shoegaze heartthrob of a track will hold me over. It’s the epitome of what I love about them: “Cool Things” pulls together intensely emotional, yet vacant sonics that wash over you in for an involved yet distant result. They’re really good at pulling haze over your ears and it’s quite impressive.

OTHER SONGS OF THE YEAR

“Graveyard Shift” by Acacia Strain

My bit on their album covers this, but it’s my favorite song on the thing. Abso-fucking-lutely fantastic. I have way too much fun when this song comes on.

“Shaolin Monk Motherfunk” by Hiatus Kaiyote

Who knew Australia had this much soul? Such an easy song to vibe to.

“Video Girl” by Slime Girls

Slime Girls have gone through a bit of a sound change, but “Video Girl” is a unique addition to their discography that builds on their sound while maintaining a bit of a stylistic callback to their early work.

“Moonlight” by S U R F I N G

An incredibly dancy bass makes for prime vaporwave, as we see in “Moonlight”. I don’t have much else to say other than state the obvious: this song is a fun time.

“Oh Comley” by Neutral Milk Hotel

A heartbreaking ballad filled with twisted poetry. Will it make you cry? Maybe. Will you feel a deep sadness? Undoubtedly.

“Attack of the Crab Women” by Daikaiju

Instrumental surf rock that’ll make your life feel like an action movie.

“judas inside” by chris†††

no lives matter is a very interesting album, “judas inside” being a Nine Inch Nails-reminiscent climax at just the second track!

“March to the Sea” by Baroness

Before I really read/was able to discern the lyrics on this song it evoked something emotional in me. Knowing the words behind it only strengthened that.

“Nitrogen” by Mantra Machine

A driven gem of jam rock, I’d highly recommend checking out “Nitrogen” and Mantra Machine in general.

“Kings” by Psychic Shakes

I really enjoy Psychic Shake’s vibes, especially on this track. This is such a simple yet grandiose song. I felt like I was flying the first time I listened to it (and still do most other times I put it on). The EP that this comes from is full of promise; they’re another band that I’ve love a full album from. They’ve got a new single out too that’s worth a listen.

“Ivy” by Frank Ocean

This masterpiece of neo-psychedelia never fails to get me emotional; an absolute stand-out.

“First Pube Theme Song” by Father Figure

The highlight of a fun, funky prog album, “Fist Pube Theme Song” is a measured, calculated journey that stuck with me for a long time. Side note: TextEdit doesn’t recognize “Pube” as a word.

“Are You A Hypnotist??” by The Flaming Lips

Time goes by so slowly in such a magical way during this song.

“Instrument” by Fugazi

A great mix of punk angst and slowed atmosphere, it’s my personal favorite from In On the Kill Taker.

“Acid Rain” by Grails

What stood out the most on their seamless record, Doomsdayer’s Holliday was the closing epic. “Acid Rain” builds on a concept for eight and half minutes in a way that keeps me continually entertained after dozens of listens. It touches various emotional sandstones and I can see if being interpreted in a variety of ways.

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