Allah-Las- Calico Review (Mexican Summer)- While many will say the early part of the 21st century was a high point for garage rock, I am partial to recent years. There are a lot of great bands out there that are authentic heirs to the Nuggets crown- The Golden Boys, The Growlers, Mystic Braves, and many more- not to mention reunions by the Sonics, Zombies, and Fleshtones, and near mainstream success of Ty Stegall and King Tuff. Like 2014’s Worship the Sun, this album is a bit uneven, but it’s still pretty great. Where the previous worked was definitely in line with the 1965 crowd, like the Mystic braves, these guys have transitioned to ’67, as if they heard Sgt Pepper’s, Forever Changes and the Velvet Underground for the first time. At times, they nail the Velvets sound, while “Famous Phone Figure” would make Colin Moulding jealous he didn’t write it first.
Banks and Steelz Anything but Words (Warner Bros)– 2016 was a good year for some odd pairings. While I never enjoyed the Wu Tang Clan to the extent most indie fans did, I did appreciate few could make a soundscape like RZA. Here RZA aka Bobby Digital aka Bobby Steelz teams with the often underappreciated Interpol frontman Paul Banks. Debut single “Love and War” slammed like Run the Jewels. The question of course was the rest of the album as good and would it bear repeated listenings. The answers to both questions are yes. ABW is a strong album of the year contender. There’s an all-star guest list of rappers who lay rhymes over Banks’ plaintive sound; which means even with all of its differences, it’s hard not to compare to the Gorillaz. Still, top of the class.
David Bowie Blackstar (ISO)- Given the circumstances of the release, it’s hard to offer any criticism. Indeed, this is one of the most well-loved albums of the year. I will probably make no friends by offering a word of dissent, but I don’t think it is a five star album. Of course, my problem lies more with Big Indie (Pitchfork, AV Club, DiS, CoS, Spin, Quietus, etc). Upon Bowie’s death, it was immediately proclaimed that this was his masterpiece, and The Next Day wasn’t so good after all. Which is what I have a problem with. Bowie has had a solid record the last 20 years, and even though he has had some missteps in his career, there are only really a few. To me, this album reminds me of what Bowie was doing in the mid-90s. I will say it certainly is more consistent than those releases, but I don’t think it towers over his recent output. Which isn’t saying this isn’t wonderful (It is), but that his other recent albums have been quite good.
Tracy Bryant Subterranean(Burger Records)- Again, my problem is with Big Indie is that they spend time promoting Beyonce and Taylor Swift when they should really be finding artists like this. Bryant is the lead singer of Corners, a band I was not familiar with, but deals in this kind of garage and psychedelic music. This record is fantastic- more modern (a la Ty Segall) than Allah Las- style nostalgic. Allmusic compares him to the Cramps which wasn’t the first band I thought of, but does drive the point hime that if you love reverb, you should check out this great record.
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds Skeleton Tree (Bad Seeds Ltd) – Like Bowie’s record, this one is hard to separate from the tragedy (the death of his 15 year old son) , still I will try to stick to reviewing the record. Cave has been so consistently great over the years that it’s hard to compare this album to the discography and recent work. I would say better than his last, but less good than the prior to. It’s almost hard to say when this would be a defining work in anyone else’s catalogue. Cave, Warren Ellis and longtime producer Nick Launay have made an album that is sounds so intimate, it’s almost disturbingly so. For me, I prefer Cave with the traditional rock fourpiece sound of the Blixa Bargeld/Mick Harvey days to the Ellis soundscapes, but no doubt this is a good album.
Colvin and Earle s/t (Fantasy) –Maybe not an obvious pairing, but what a great duo. I always wonder what Steve Earle is going to do next, and he always keeps you guessing. The two advertise this project as more Crosby Stills and Nash than Conway & Loretta, and it indeed is a fine folk album. Everything about the record is so well done that it almost sounds like it is all covers. (It is mostly originals, though the expanded edition includes a necessary cover of the Beatles “Baby in Black” as well as one standard from both artists career). This is one of those albums that Big Indie would never deem ‘important’, and it really isn’t much more than two friends playing songs they love, but what a great end to end listen, that I am sure I will still be listening to(in parts if not full) ten years from now.
Dinosaur Jr Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not (Jagjaguwar)- What’s more improbable- that J, Lou and Murph have stuck together a decade since reuniting or that four albums in, they seem to make it all so effortless. It’s as if they have never stopped, and as much as I doted on their last album, it’s possible that this is even better. The gut reaction might be that it should be obvious that any time this band plugs in, a near classic will be made, but if that’s true, then why can’t the Pixies (and others) do it. It’s a Dinosaur Jr record, so I don’t know what else I can add, but they’re still going strong. It would seem ludicrous to consider that they are better now than they were in their heyday, but it’s also quite possible.
- Al Bedsitter's 20 Best Albums of 2016 (Part 1 of 3): He played it left hand, but made it too far