My Top 10 Albums of 2016


*taps the mic*

This thing still work?

Hi! Yeah, I exist. It’s been a busy year.

For one thing, the lovely Ms. Phoebe Lucille was born on June 29th. 🙂

A two year old and a six month old do not make for many leisurely afternoons exploring new music, and besides that, my competing addictions to Forum Mafia and Overwatch have consumed virtually all of what little free time I have. Suffice to say, I’m not exactly well informed on music in 2016. In fact, I can’t name 10 metal albums that came out last year off the top of my head, so my traditional top metal list just isn’t going to happen.

But I’ve been posting some sort of year-end music list every year since 2002, and I’ll be damned if I let ignorance stop me. So here goes nothing:

10. Krallice – Prelapsarian

Prelapsarian was released on December 21st. I didn’t find out about its existence until quite recently, and like every Krallice albums, it’s going to take a good 30 listens to fully appreciate. But after a few early spins I can confidently say that it’s good, and because it’s Krallice, that probably means I’ll be kicking myself half a year from now for not giving it my #1 slot. My initial take-away is that the band has continued to pursue the more mathy/avant-garde approach they took on Ygg Huur in place of the progressive opuses of their first four albums, and while that might not make for the same degree of eternal replay value, they’re still the best in the business at what they do. I could argue that I liked the Hyperion EP released earlier this year more, but that’s hardly fair given the amount of time I’ve had to listen to Prelapsarian. I’m going to err on the side of reason here and say this album will be firmly cemented in my top 10 of 2016 a month from now.

9. Martröð – Transmutation of Wounds

Is it another cop out to include a 16 minute EP in my year end list? Maybe. Whatever the play time limits, Transmutation of Wounds takes me on a pretty diverse and chaotic ride. In a lot of ways it felt like a more complete work to me than many full length black metal albums I heard this year, because it’s always going somewhere. The destinations aren’t particularly inviting, but they’re consistently fascinating. A solid debut from a band that could really kill it if they put together a full length album.

8. Skáphe – Skáphe²

This one is a brilliantly discordant and meandering take on black metal. It borders on unlistenable for all the right reasons, and leaves me feeling a little sick to my stomach every time I give it a spin. I suppose that doesn’t sound like a compliment, but it’s an artistic accomplishment that really very few bands out there can pull off. I mutually adore and abhor it. On an amusing note, I just realized as I was writing this that the line-up includes members of Misþyrming and Martröð. Misþyrming’s Söngvar elds og óreiðu would have easily made my 2015 list if I hadn’t only discovered it this past January, and I placed Martröð one slot up, so at least my tastes are consistent. <_<

7. Sumac – What One Becomes

I need to get off my ass and buy a physical copy of this album. Post-metal god Aaron Turner finally found a worthy follow-up to Isis when he joined forces in 2015 with Nick Yacyshyn and Brian Cook to create The Deal, a sludgy masterpiece that might be what Isis would have sounded like had they tied a brick to every guitar string. The Deal has been my go-to album for car rides for quite a while now, and it’s hard for me to compare its quality to What One Becomes because I’ve only ever listened to the latter at home. But I’ve heard it enough to know it’s excellent, and it’s only going to keep on growing on me in years to come.

6. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

I don’t suppose this needs much explanation. Half a year ago, I might have considered it for my top choice of the year. Sitting here right now, I can’t honest remember any of the songs besides “Burn the Witch” and the absolutely beautiful revision of “True Love Waits” without putting the album on to remind myself. That’s been the simple difference for me between post-Hail to the Thief Radiohead and all that came before. I love it when I’m experiencing it; I can’t really remember it a few weeks removed. But it’s more a testimony to Thom and company’s longevity that the music they released in 2016 still earns an easy placement in my top 10 of the year.

5. Run the Jewels – 3

This is where my list is going to start getting a little unconventional to people who’ve known me for a long time. I was really into Anticon back in the early 2000s (I gave Buck 65’s Secret House Against the World my #1 slot in 2005), but by and large hip hop has remained one of those genres I massively respected but never really got around to expansively engaging. Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly in 2015 hit me hard enough to affect a more lasting change in my listening habits. I listened to more hip hop than metal in 2016. So there’s the preface.

When I say I don’t know hip hop though, I mean it. El-P and Killer Mike were nothing to me but names I’d heard people mention a million times before I picked up this album. I can’t compare this to their past albums. I can’t speak from experience. I can’t even talk about its appeal over time, because this album just dropped on Christmas Eve. But it hit me for all the reasons I was digging Aesop Rock this time 15 years ago, and in a year when hip hop was my go-to genre it was the perfect album to close things out.

4. Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition

That was the easy part. Now it gets hard. The rest of these could go in any order. They’re so mutually different that I don’t really know where to begin in ranking them. So I’m going to do the stupid thing and put the album I’m most likely to love longest at the bottom of the pile.

Is this the most intelligent album of 2016? Probably. I don’t have to be well versed in a genre to recognize a piece of art when I see it. Atrocity Exhibition shows extreme attention to lyrical and musical detail in crafting its grim cautionary descent into drug abuse and street violence. Brown pulled together a collection of sounds that projected his vision in astoundingly visual ways. No one should ever realistically be able to rap to this, but he managed to lay his eccentric and expressive voice over top of it anyway. It’s one of those packages that takes extreme care to ensure that it’s barely holding itself together at any given moment. If I was strictly picking the “best” album of 2016, Brown would be my boy, but what good is a year end list if I can’t kick myself for how stupid my ordering was afterwards?

3. Deathspell Omega – The Synarchy of Molten Bones

Besides, metal has always hit closest to home for me. It’s the sound I find easiest to embrace, whatever its abrasiveness, and once again France has served as the source of its finest cuts. For better than a decade, friends whose tastes I trust have been praising Deathspell Omega, but I could never quite catch the hype. That changed this year. Far and away my favorite metal album of 2016, The Synarchy of Molten Bones is a complex and captivating black metal masterpiece that’s really perfectly mixed to bring out the robustness of their sound in a full and fleshy way. The song progression is delightfully abstract without ever teetering into the abyss of wankery. A lot of its success stands on their ability to remain relentlessly aggressive no matter how far they delve into experimentation. Too obscure for me to ever fully wrap my head around, I’ve put it on more than 50 times expecting the sort of bore that excessively abstract metal tends to convey on me, and every time I’m just immediately swept away, not fully cognizant of what my ears are hearing but thoroughly in love. These guys crafted an exceptional album on their own, but they owe their studio staff a lot of respect for delicious production too.

2. Bon Iver – 22, A Million

From here I’ve got to vote with my heart, and that begins with the 34 minute heartbreak that is 22, A Million. This album reminds me more of Lost in Translation than of any particular album. It’s packed with disjointed vignettes that don’t serve an apparent purpose towards progressing the album. They often start or end abruptly. It almost comes off as a compilation of half-finished works that got mashed together in an abbreviated 34 minute package with all the meat left behind, but I think it works well that way. Fleeting moments of digital indie folk that always manage to feel simultaneously depressed and comforting–the end result is something beautiful. I put my kids to sleep with it at night.

1. Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book

I’ve been trying my hardest to overplay this album for ten months now, but it just won’t grow old. I don’t know if past artists have incorporated gospel into hip hop to this extent or not, but if they’re half as effective at it, lead the way. I don’t have to share Chance’s religious beliefs to find this album entirely uplifting from start to finish. It beams positivity from end to end without any of the pop sunshine and flowers that turn me off to the vast majority of “happy” music. Chance is at his best when he’s passionately and arrogantly busting out religious lines (and he kills it just as hard on Kanye’s “Ultralight Beam”, whatever I think of the rest of that album). That’s the focus for the grand bulk of this work. It’s not perfect by a long shot. Where he diverts to more worldly themes, he’s often shallow and cliche. “All Night” for instance is really fun to jam along to but leaves me feeling more than modestly cheated on the lyrical front.

But I don’t really care. I fell in love with the spirituality of this album right from the get-go, and close to a year later it still brightens me up every time I put it on. It won’t go down among my top albums of all time, but it earned its place as my favorite of 2016.

Previous years on Shattered Lens:

2011 / 2012 / 2013 / 2014 / 2015

Previous Entries In The Best of 2016:

  1. TFG’s 2016 Comics Year In Review : Top Tens, Worsts, And Everything In Between
  2. Anime of the Year: 2016
  3. 25 Best, Worst, and Gems I Saw In 2016
  4. 2016 in Review: The Best of SyFy
  5. 2016 in Review: The Best of Lifetime
  6. 2016 in Review: Lisa Picks the 16 Worst Films of 2016!

Song of the Day: Father Figure (by George Michael)


george-michael

The year of 2016 has taken many of the music scene’s greatest. Prince, David Bowie and Glenn Frey just to name a few taken too soon. Now, George Michael joins his musical brethren as news of his passing on Christmas Day was announced and confirmed.

There’s not much to say other than any kid growing up during the late 80’s knew and listened to George Michael in some capacity or another. While he became famous as part of the British boy band WHAM! it was when he branched out on his own as a solo act that he hit megastar status. His solo debut album, Faith, would reach multi-platinum levels and each single released from the album and each video that ran in circulation on MTV would become instant hits.

My favorite song of his and this goes to his many excellent post-modern videos, would be the third single released from his debut album, “Father Figure.”.

Father Figure

That’s all I wanted
Something special, something sacred
In your eyes

For just one moment
To be bold and naked
At your side

Sometimes I think that you’ll never
Understand me (understand me)
Maybe this time is forever
Say it can be, woah

That’s all you wanted
Something special, someone sacred
In your life

Just for one moment
To be warm and naked
At my side

Sometimes I think that you’ll never
Understand me (understand me)
But something tells me together
We’d be happy, woah baby

I will be your father figure (oh baby)
Put your tiny hand in mine (I’d love to)
I will be your preacher teacher (be your daddy)
Anything you have in mind (it would make me)

I will be your father figure (very happy)
I have had enough of crime (please let me)
I will be the one who loves you
Till the end of time

That’s all I wanted
But sometimes love can be mistaken
For a crime

That’s all I wanted
Just to see my baby’s
Blue-eyed shine

This time I think that my lover
Understands me (understands me)
If we have faith in each other
Then we can be strong, baby

I will be your father figure
Put your tiny hand in mine (my baby)
I will be your preacher teacher
Anything you have in mind

I will be your father figure
I have had enough of crime
I will be the one who loves you
Till the end of time

If you are the desert, I’ll be the sea
If you ever hunger, hunger for me
Whatever you ask for, that’s what I’ll be

So when you remember the ones who have lied
Who said that they cared
But then laughed as you cried

Beautiful darling
Don’t think of me
Because all I ever wanted
It’s in your eyes
Baby, baby
And love can’t lie, no

(Greet me with the eyes of a child)
My love is always telling me so
(Heaven is a kiss and a smile)
Just hold on, hold on
And won’t let you go, my baby

I will be your father figure
Put your tiny hand in mine
I will be your preacher teacher
Anything you have in mind

I will be your father figure
And I have had enough of crime
So I am gonna love you
Till the end of time

(I will be your father) I will be your
(I will be your preacher) Father
(I will be your father) I’ll be your daddy, whoa
I will be the one who loves you
Till the end of time

R.I.P. Whitney Houston


Some sad news has hit the music industry and it’s fans as one of the iconic singers of the 1980’s and 90’s passed away today at the age of 48.

Whitney Houston was one of the major voices of the music scene from the time she came into it with her self-titled debut album in 1985. Her sound was a combination of the R&B, soul and Gospel sound which Motown had popularized during it’s hey day during the 60’s and 70’s, but she also injected a major dose of pop to her singing which allowed her to cross genre boundaries to become a mainstream pop star.

Her success with the mainstream scene would cause her some problems with those who were R&B fans first and foremost. This personal struggle to both acknowledge her R&B roots and also maintain her foot within the mainstream would plague Whitney Houston throughout her career.

In the end, one doesn’t need to be in the camp of either side to acknowledge her vocal talent of which it was staggering. She dominated the Billboard during her reign as pop music’s female answer to Michael Jackson during the 80’s and early 90’s. Sadly, a contentious marriage to another pop star in Bobby Brown during the early 90’s would lead to drug use and subsequently a degradation of the very voice which brought her fame and success.

For me, two songs which would forever cement her star in the constellation of greatest singers of any era would be her cover of the song “The Greatest Love of All” and her powerful rendition of the national anthem, “Star-Spangled Banner”, during Super Bowl XXV. These two songs proves that she was a talent that arrived on the music scene once a generation and who would influence uncounted singers following in her footsteps.

Source: Associated Press

 

Song of the Day: Ain’t No Grave (by Johnny Cash)


The latest “Song of the Day” comes courtesy of the “Man in Black” himself. It’s the main track from his final posthumous-released album, American VI: Ain’t No Grave.

“Ain’t No Grave” gives us Cash in his final days as he continued to make music despite knowing that Death was coming for him and his time was almost up. We can hear the Cash’s voice gravelly as usual but also shows the failing health he was in. Yet, despite that he still gives the Old Testament-like lyrics of “Ain’t No Grave” the gravity and strength of someone who has seen all that life had to offer (both good and bad) and experienced them all.

The minimalist music backing up Cash’s voice as piano, organ and banjo played on the fly gives the song an almost doomsday tone as he sings about death, angels and the Second Coming. Yet, there’s a sense of hope to the lyrics themselves as Cash points out that not even the grave can keep him from reaching the promised land.

It’s final songs like “Ain’t No Grave” which continues to build the legend that is Johnny Cash. He’s gone beyond music superstar and icon to just legendary figure who seems to transcends art and life itself with every gravelly-voiced lyric sung. If there’s anyone who can look the Devil and God in their eye and tell them to stick it then it would be Johnny Cash.

Ain’t No Grave

There ain’t no grave
Can hold my body down
There ain’t no grave
Can hold my body down

When I hear that trumpet sound
I’m gonna rise right out of the ground
Ain’t no grave
Can hold my body down

Well, look way down the river
And what do you think I see
I see a band of angels
And they’re coming after me

Ain’t no grave
Can hold my body down
There ain’t no grave
Can hold my body down

Well, look down yonder, Gabriel
Put your feet on the land and sea
But Gabriel, don’t you blow your trumpet
Until you hear from me

There ain’t no grave
Can hold my body down
Ain’t no grave
Can hold my body down

Well meet me, Jesus, meet me
Meet me in the middle of the air
And if these wings don’t fail me,
I will meet you anywhere

Ain’t no grave
Can hold my body down
There ain’t no grave
Can hold my body down

Well meet me, Mother and Father,
Meet me down the river road
And Mama, you know that I’ll be there
When I check in my load

Ain’t no grave
Can hold my body down
There ain’t no grave
Can hold my body down
There ain’t no grave
Can hold my body down

Song of the Day: The Man Comes Around (by Johnny Cash)


We’ve now reached the final day of what has been a week-long horror-themed “Song of the Day” feature for the site. It’s quite appropriate that this final day also lands on Halloween and I’m sure many will approve of this final choice to cap off the week.

A week which has seen Italian film composers and prog-rock bands chosen for creating and contributing some of the best and most memorable themes to horror films which will stand the march of time. We’ve seen an epic song from a Montreal band whose music has the apocalyptic sound to it. There’s also two entries from films created by a master of the horror genre in John Carpenter.

The week began with Goblin’s main title theme for George A. Romero’s original Dawn of the Dead. With Halloween night the premiere of the long-awaited and heavily-hyped tv adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead comic book series (by none other than Frank Darabont himself) I thought what better way to bookend Goblin’s theme for the Romero zombie epic than by picking Johnny Cash’s song “The Man Comes Around”. One of the last songs penned and sang by The Man In Black himself and properly used by filmmaker Zack Snyder to  be the intro music for his remake of Dawn of the Dead.

This song with its gospel-like (though not as hopeful as most) sound and it’s apocalyptic and Biblical lyrics just speaks of the apocalypse like no other song from this past week has done. It comes off almost like a prophecy come down and spoken by one of God’s main dudes. This song when paired with the scenes of the zombie apocalypse crashing down on an unsuspecting world in Snyder’s film instantly made it a favorite with all zombie fans everywhere and introduced The Man In Black to a whole new set of fans.

I would like to think that when the zombie apocalypse does arrive it would be to this song as I and those who share my belief in how to survive such an event ready ourselves for whatever may come.

The Man Comes Around

And I heard as it were the noise of thunder
One of the four beasts saying come and see and I saw
And behold a white horse

There’s a man going around taking names
And he decides who to free and who to blame
Everybody won’t be treated all the same
There’ll be a golden ladder reaching down
When the Man comes around

The hairs on your arm will stand up
At the terror in each sip and in each sup
Will you partake of that last offered cup?
Or disappear into the potter’s ground
When the Man comes around

Hear the trumpets, hear the pipers
One hundred million angels singing
Multitudes are marching to the big kettledrum
Voices calling, voices crying
Some are born and some are dying
It’s Alpha and Omega’s kingdom come

And the whirlwind is in the thorn tree
The virgins are all trimming their wicks
The whirlwind is in the thorn tree
It’s hard for thee to kick against the pricks

Till Armageddon no shalam, no shalom
Then the father hen will call his chickens home
The wise man will bow down before the throne
And at His feet they’ll cast their golden crowns
When the Man comes around

Whoever is unjust let him be unjust still
Whoever is righteous let him be righteous still
Whoever is filthy let him be filthy still
Listen to the words long written down
When the Man comes around

Hear the trumpets, hear the pipers
One hundred million angels singing
Multitudes are marching to the big kettledrum
Voices calling and voices crying
Some are born and some are dying
It’s Alpha and Omega’s kingdom come

And the whirlwind is in the thorn tree
The virgins are all trimming their wicks
The whirlwind is in the thorn tree
It’s hard for thee to kick against the pricks

In measured hundredweight and penneypound
When the Man comes around.

Close (Spoken part)
And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts
And I looked and behold, a pale horse
And his name that sat on him was Death
And Hell followed with him.

Song of the Day: God’s Gonna Cut You Down (by Johnny Cash)


This song has been a favorite Johnny Cash track of mine. God’s Gonna Cut You Down really brings the Old Testament gospel side of Johnny Cash to light. This song will probably get more mentions and airplay with it’s usage by Ubisoft in the release trailer for their latest Sam Fisher game, Splinter Cell: Conviction. While it’s probably not the way I would want young people to get introduced to Johnny Cash by way of video game at least they will get to hear and learn one of the greatest musical icons in American music history.

The Man in Black takes what really is a very upbeat and hopeful gospel folk song and turns it onto it’s head. Using a rhythmic stomp-clap to accompany his acoustic guitar playing, Cash imbues God’s Gonna Cut You Down with a grimness that shows God in vengeful, Old Testament flame and sword vengeance mode. It is difficult not to get into this song even if one is not religious. The way Cash song-speaks the lyrics just pulls one into the song until it’s completely hooked it’s talons onto one’s mind and won’t let go. I know I get into humming the song almost by instinct whenever I catch a bit of it on the radio and now on tv.

God’s Gonna Cut You Down

You can run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Sooner or later God’ll cut you down
Sooner or later God’ll cut you down

Go tell that long tongue liar
Go and tell that midnight rider
Tell the rambler, the gambler, the back biter
Tell ’em that God’s gonna cut ’em down
Tell ’em that God’s gonna cut ’em down

Well my goodness gracious let me tell you the news
My head’s been wet with the midnight dew
I’ve been down on bended knee talkin’ to the man from Galilee
He spoke to me in the voice so sweet
I thought I heard the shuffle of the angel’s feet
He called my name and my heart stood still
When he said, “John go do My will!”

Go tell that long tongue liar
Go and tell that midnight rider
Tell the rambler, the gambler, the back biter
Tell ’em that God’s gonna cut ’em down
Tell ’em that God’s gonna cut ’em down

You can run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Sooner or later God’ll cut you down
Sooner or later God’ll cut you down

Well you may throw your rock and hide your hand
Workin’ in the dark against your fellow man
But as sure as God made black and white
What’s done in the dark will be brought to the light

You can run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Run on for a long time
Sooner or later God’ll cut you down
Sooner or later God’ll cut you down

Go tell that long tongue liar
Go and tell that midnight rider
Tell the rambler, the gambler, the back biter
Tell ’em that God’s gonna cut you down
Tell ’em that God’s gonna cut you down
Tell ’em that God’s gonna cut you down