Cullen Omori New Misery (Sub Pop) I kind of feel sorry for Cullen. The Smith Westerns broke up, and by rights, the frontman’s debut album should be well feted. Instead, Big Indie is all agog over Whitney- a band featuring the Smith Westerns guitarist and drummer. I am not saying Whitney is bad. They have some great songs, but Big Indie loves them (Now, it’s possible Big Indie has never listened to Canned Heat, so this band may be a revelation). Omori, meanwhile had an album that should be on top of those same lists. Drawing from his previous band’s sound, deeply rooted in T Rextacy. Cullen also has his other influences proudly on his sleeves (80s synthpop a la OMD, and 90s Britpop specifically Spirtualized). I would probably have included the album in my Top 20 for “Cinnamon” alone, but the rest of the album is pretty strong as well.
Parquet Courts Human Performance (Rough Trade)- I have had these guys on my radar, but this is the album that won me over. I sort of pigeonholed them with other Brooklyn bands. A lot of the best bands in recent history are chameleons, and that’s certainly the case here. To me, they are at the best when they are playing nth Generation Velvet Underground. To me, more than the Velvets ( though “Berlin got Blurry” seems pretty obvious) it’s the immediate descendants that they remind me of – Modern lovers, ’77 Talking Heads, even maybe some Television and early Yo La Tengo. Still, it works to great effect. Big Indie loved this album, but it’s hard to argue, when we look back at the decade, this will be one of indie rock’s finest moments.
Pixies Head Carrier (Pixies)- This one is a tough one to consider. For starters, do you compare it to the Pixies, to Frank Black’s work (as he said he is only interested in the Pixies and no other projects) or against the rest of the records of 2016. The reunion album Indie Cindy was panned, but most rightfully so. Head carrier is a bit harder to define. More jeers than cheers from Big Indie, but it did get favorable reviews from Mojo and Luke Haines proclaimed “Pixies are back”. For me, it’s a good album with a bunch of good songs. That means there’s a handful of other albums that probably have as much right to be on my Top 20 as this. Still, I do think this is the right choice and I am not overcompensating for past performance (at least not too much). Indeed, the Smiths, Clash, Nirvana, etc would have eventually had subpar records. One big win is the addition of Paz Lenchatin, who after some attempts, feels like the missing piece to replace Kim Deal. The weakest part is Black, who has since “Bam Thwok” can’t seem to find the formula for Debaser –style rockers and so here are a couple of attempts like “Um Chagga lagga” for nonsense shouting. The record ultimately works because of Joey Santiago, who in 2016 is a better Pixies-inspired guitarist than anyone who has come since. The album works best at its heartfelt- the ostensible apology to Kim- the Paz sang “All I think about now” and the classic sounding “Might as well be gone”
Iggy Pop Post Pop Depression (Concord/Loma Vista) – Whats’s striking about Iggy’s latest is the realization of what an unlikely pop star he is, and almost a half century later, he’s had a career that is as lengthy and worthwhile than almost anyone. The secret being that he (almost) always finds the right collaborator (Bowie, of course, but also the Ashetons, James Williamson, David Was, Eric Schermerhorn to name a few). In hindsight, Josh Homme is the perfect collaborator. Iggy has made as satisfying as an album as he has made in 20 years (though I do like some along the way). Ironically, I feel Iggy almost always made better records when he was using intellect as opposed to being big dumb and loud. PPD is a smart record, even when the lyrics are puerile. For me the only misstep here is the big loud and dumb “Vulture”. The album has been compared to his Berlin albums of 40 years ago, which is seemingly too tall of an order for any Pop album, but a strong argument can be made. Then after all of that, Pop ends with “Paraguay” an all time classic where Iggy sets himself as the punkest 70 year old on the planet.
Radiohead A Moon Shaped Pool (XL) In a year of much loved recordings, there were few albums Big Indie loved more than this one. It was a weird release- the band deleting their online presence, the songs listed alphabetically, no prior fanfare leading up to its release date. It feels like an ‘odds and sods’ collection to me. Indeed, diehard Radiohead fans knew some of these lyrics and song bits already from earlier sessions. Even the most casual fan recognizing “True Love Waits” from the band’s 2001 official live release. To me, it’s a disadvantage to have songs that sound like they belong to Kid A, along more recent sounding Radiohead, with a couple of soundscapes that sound like they may have originated as a Thom Yorke solo piece but given added orchestration. To me, it doesn’t make for the short list of the band’s best album, though the songs themselves are good.
Suede Night Thoughts (Rhino/Suede)- There was a point in time where Suede could do no wrong from ’93 to ’96, which of course includes their classic Dog Man Star but an immaculate set of singles and B-sides collected on Sci-Fi Lullabies. Since reuniting in 2010, the band seems to be conscious of not straying too far from that era of the band’s sound. In some terms frustrating (in that the best reunions nod to the past and move forward. Think Echo & the Bunnymen among others). Night Thoughts would likely be a better album if it took a few chances. Still, it does capture what made the band so great in the first place. It also improves on 2013s comeback disc Bloodsports by offering songs that can surely stand by the band’s best with no fear, even if it doesn’t improve on them.
The Thermals We Disappear (Saddle Creek Records/The Thermals)- Seven albums in, these guys aren’t going to remain the Big Indie faves they once were. What makes the Thermals so great despite what seems a simplistic formula is that they always deliver. Though some albums certainly are better, they haven’t made a total clunker yet. Early on, this album offers “The Great Dying” which offers a different vision for the band, but it’s an exception. Most of the record follows the anthemic lo-fi punk we’ve come to expect. With a title like “Hey You” it sounds like they might be out of ideas, but it rises above its title, and “If We Don’t Die Today” and “My Heart Went Cold” fit the model of great Thermals rockers.