Staff List: Findlay’s Top Albums
Posted: by admin
Over the next few weeks, The Alternative will be publishing numerous EOTY staff lists leading up to our site-wide ‘Top 50 Albums of the Year’ article. Why so many lists? Well, we believe in giving as many bands/artists exposure as possible, and with so many great releases in 2016, more lists will cover more ground. Our goal is to help you find something new. Thank you for reading.
Here, Findlay writes about his top albums of the year.
10) Darkher – Realms
Darkher came to me as I was reading up about the autumnal equinox and why certain vegetables react more positively to lunar cycles. One of the comments mentioned listening to this album while sitting in their garden watching dew melt as the shadows thinned and I thought “yes I need that” and Darkher is exactly that. Chilly, ghosted winds and ice cold guitar and bark-frosted floor toms. The comparisons to the wonderful Chelsea Wolfe are obvious to see, but Darkher is, well, Darker. Her sounds are more stone and field. Lonely and cloudy. Beautiful and cold. Where Wolfe feels more backroom satanic, Jayn feels more pagan, like she’s been sitting in a stone circle for days with no food, endlessly singing lullabies to dancing spirits and floating feathers. Doom-folk might sound like a rubbish genre, but little evokes so much imagery and warmth than this album. And she’s from West Yorkshire which just pleases me to no end.
#9) Guerilla Toss – Eraser Stargazer
Cacophony. Just a fucking gigantic great mess. A ball of energy and influence uncondensed. A big octopus of art and form and funk and legs and shoes and sticks hitting everything. There’s so many amazing things hidden deep in this album you get to discover like looking through a drawer of wires for a penny. Wet-mud funk basses, bullhorns, cowbells, cymbal bell-hits, keyboard warps and big vocal freakouts. Basically a big weirdo-mutant-slime pink jamfest to soundtrack those times you drew people inside out with soup and barf blowing out their eyes. There’s something so rolling and constant and thrusting about this album that I don’t think any album has had in YEARS. I’ve also had Kassie Carlson singing “YOU WANT IT? WHY DON’T YOU LOOK OUT THE WINDOW!” in my head for months and I think it’s where the band actually live now, so that’s cool.
8) Muscle & Marrow – Love
I genuinely couldn’t believe my ears when I first heard this album. For a long time I ached for an apocalyptic pop album that would really kill me and this year I got it. Sure it’s doomy and got really heavy elements, but this has true genuine deep beauty in it. There’s some amazing and nimble dynamics when their needs to be and some crushing big waves of synth and guitar that come at you like a 100” TV playing static falling on your head. There’s subtlety and ghostly wailing and swooning ooohs and ahhhhs and hag-like hurks twisting their way round the structures like a ribbon. It’s hard to describe an album so deep and atmospheric without just listening to it. So please do so.
7) Animal Flag – LP
Animal Flag is one reason you should hail and kneel at the church of The Alternative constantly. Hendo and the gang are absolutely the greatest people alive and are so fucking clued up and on-point with recommendations. Always. This album came to me through them and I can’t thank them enough. Emo? Sure. Indie rock? I guess. LP is more than that. It has such strong authorship and songwriting in it, it basically puts its peers to fucking shame and no one’s even noticed yet. Metered and considered drums, perfect guitars and taught emotional lyrics feel like they’ve been poured over and over to achieve absolute perfection for their purpose. There’s a fairy light twinkle, white wood house, lawn-needing-cut, tree-root-poking-out-the-ground sound to this album that makes me feel so warm and positive listening to it. It’s also, for me anyways, got a certain wintery year-end sound to it that makes it slot nicely in with bands Have Mercy, Weatherbox and Paper Rival. God this album is fucking SOLID. The year’s best emo release hands down.
#6) Aesop Rock – The Impossible Kid
If you follow me on twitter, you’ve probably seen me going on and on this year about the lyrics from this album. Aesop Rock’s headspinningly clever and wrist-twisting lyrics are usually so complex and culturally sharp it’s almost like a cubist sculpture made from cereal boxes with free gifts in them, but this year he brought out his all-time greatest album. It’s his most open and personal too, rapping about his age, his family, his therapy and his pets. The beats are neat and sneakily mix acoustic, loose, head-bobbing hip hop drums with chiptune, fat synths, Wes Borland-type guitars and esoteric samples. Like drawing weird monsters on an encyclopaedia with slime and blood. Songs sound aggressive at times, but it’s just the fist-clenching observations of his own life and others that comes through, like he’s realizing he’s unstuck in a world he’s stuck in. Still, it’s the lyrics in this that fucking blow me away, like when he’s rapping an exchange with his shrink:
“Here’s one, every time my telephone buzzes I see images of hooded riders setting fire to hundreds.”
She said, “When you start getting all expressive and symbolic, it’s impossible to actualize an honest diagnostic.”
I said, “When you start getting all exact and algebraic, I’m reminded it’s a racket, not a rehabilitation, okay?””
Who even manages to put that in a hip hop song? Aesop does.
#5) Domo Genesis – GENESIS
I was never really an Odd Future guy. I tried and failed because it just seemed like a bunch of pricks I couldn’t care about, making music to be pricks. This feels like Domo’s actual Genesis. The beginning of himself away from the bulk of Odd Future and oh boy it’s great. Soulful and raw and chilled, like flowing your hands out the window of a car driving through the city. There’s hope here and a love for the art of rapping, threaded through groovy beautiful songs that feel like Nujabes made them from his rung in heaven. It’s a stupid thing to call an album “listenable” because it sounds like you’re brushing it off as OK but this album is so universally flexible to listen to in any occasion because it offers sounds to elevate everything around you. Early morning bird chirps, late night disco soul, weekend city walks, long introspective commutes, kisses on the couch. It’s an album that scarf wraps itself around your life because the album is life. Genuinely incredible.
#4) White Lung – Paradise
White Lung are consistently amazing. Making the slight transition from hard-punk to indie-punk then to this album of shimmer, crushing post-punk like gemstones in a blender. Mish Way can wail better than basically every punk guy out there posing himself into a ball and she does it with a knowing rigidity and style, it’s cool as fuck and impossibly effortless. The drums are a pounding pulse of fierce power, and the guitars are just as diamond cutter sharp but this time everything’s more melodic. The fire and raw edge are there but there are more vocal hooks, more texture to the instruments, more progression in structure and thought and it all amalgamates into a jagged, astral soup being served infront of a house fire. Also “Hungry” is absolutely my song of 2016. That fucking chorus is unbelievable.
#3) Emma Ruth Rundle – Marked For Death
I’ve already written about this album upon its release so I’ll keep it short, but ERR’s new album is dripping in its own world of misty atmosphere and cold-crushed melodies. More under-covers and monochromatic in sound than her previous album, she’s dispensed with the need to make sounds sound conventionally “songy” and as structurally percussion driven. ERR is exploring the foam of her own tides and convention and digging into what makes her a musician. The highs and lows are polarizing, from gentle hushed forest-echo vocals to big huge crushing waves of guitar and crashing drum. The albums not full of hooks and rad guitar lines, it’s full of emotional ambience and musical alchemy, shaping itself into the most evocative and human album I think I’ve ever heard. It’s introspective, gothically deep and completely fucking astonishing.
#2) Japanese Breakfast – Psychopomp
This album is like a big fuck-off bit of cake. Sweet, delicious, and totally satisfying. Filled with familiar shoegaze synthesized breaths you heard on Loveless and oscillating twinkles and daydream electronic swirls totally enveloping a heap of beautiful indie songs. Michelle Zauner is so fucking cool. Her voice is like the sound of when you see someone you have a crush on. Light, delicate, breathy, cool and powerful. Dreampop is such a hard sound to get right without automatically falling in line with a million other bands, but Japanese Breakfast sound so real and tangible like they made a dreampop album without ever even caring or hearing about dreampop before. The album is full of tiny moments in the shimmer that make you go “oh!” when you hear it, like the guitar noodles on “Rugged Country” or the descending stairs synth ~just~ before the chorus on “The Woman That Loves You”. Psychopomp makes me feel good. It makes me feel good to be myself and totally fucking optimistic about my life and make everything I do be totally full of energy and joy. So aye, it’s a good album.
#1) Lone – Levitate
Nothing has inspired me this year though, like Lone’s “Levitate” has. On the surface, aye I guess its drum n bass but it’s so so much more than that. Levitate is full of evocative synths and samples and noises that you can’t help but get lost in it. It’s transformative, beautiful, climatic and evocative in ways that dance music hasn’t felt to me ever. It reminds me of Playstation 1 Fifa Replay breakbeats with sonars and blips lifted right from free Demo Discs. It reminds me of my best friend’s pirate radio station he set up in a small Scottish village with a range of 3 miles. It reminds me of driving around in the back of Nova’s and growing up hanging around high rise flats and council housing. The album manages to mesh a familiarity of my existence growing up, with crystalline blankets of sound and texture. Night chirps and space-dream wails. The sounds of ocean blue waterfalls made entirely of polygons. Levitate has some aggro-dance bangers on it like “Backtail Was Heavy” but also offers dreamy, hazy electronic meanderings like “Sleepwalkers”, but then also has pure dance 4am beach-morning belters like “Vapour Trail” full of handclaps and warm echoing synths and familiar trance-y sounding tones and indecipherable vocal samples giving the song such a beautiful, groovy, incredible rhythm you want to dive into like a pearlescent pool. I think this might be my favourite electronic album of all time. Levitate inspired me to be happy for myself, to appreciate the life around me and also to get back into making art, and for that I can only be thankful and give it (unimportant as it may be) my album of the year. Thank you, Lone.