Best of 2016 Staff Picks: John Hill
As every terrified hit-piece has tried to tell you in the past five weeks, 2016 kind of sucked ass. With an idiot being elected to our highest office, musicians dying off like victims in a B-grade slasher flick and our environment on life support, what else is there to say? Looking back at my favorite records of the year, it's kind of hard not to think of each as apocalyptic in their own way, setting a tone or mood and advising us how to make hope still work — or how to thoroughly blast all remaining shreds into oblivion.
Drowse - Memory Bed
Nails/Full of Hell - Split 7"
Turnstile - Move Through Me
Krallice - Hyperion
Widower - Unholy Oath
20. Nothing - Tired of Tomorrow
19. Touche Amore - Stage Four
18. Mizery - Absolute Light
17. Anohni - Hopelessness
16. Cult of Luna and Julie Christmas - Mariner
15. The Devil Wears Prada - Transit Blues
14. Molly Drag - Tethered Renderings
13. Jenny Hval - Blood Bitch
12. Wode - Wode
11. Wreck and Reference - Indifferent Rivers Romance End
10. Tyrannamen - Tyrannamen
Tyrannamen's self-titled is a somewhat late addition, but I'm pretty grateful I got into it when I did. The fun and bounce adds to Australia's already fantastic canon of killer, modern garage rock.
9. Criminal Instinct - Zone 6 Music
While most hardcore bands seem to be in an arms race to figure out who can get the heaviest riffs, Criminal Instinct build upon the basics of the genre, producing an insanely solid record that fans of the genre's old and new days can love.
8. Super Unison - Auto
The departure of Meghan O'Neil from Punch was one of 2014's biggest bummers, but it's clear she had pretty big things on her mind when she made the move, as you can hear on Auto. Her lyrics take shitty ultra-male platitudes and throw them back in the face of the perpetrator, with far more anger and style than they thought possible.
7. Xiu Xiu - Twin Peaks
No shit, I've got a Twin Peaks tattoo on my arm, so this is kind of a no-brainer for me. Xiu Xiu take the classic soundtrack into new, terrifying waters that David Lynch would be proud of, the boundaries of the saccharine music no longer scraping against the show's terrifying oddness.
6. Husbandry - Fera
"Post-hardcore" has become one of the most tepid, predictable genres on the planet. Luckily, Husbandry have found the antidote to boring white boy tears on Fera, bringing the sound back to being a canvas for explosiveness. Singer Carina Zachary would do both Nina Simone and Daryl Palumbo proud, able to pull off heart-achingly beautiful notes, then pulverize you with rage the next moment. With a lot of the old guard, like Dillinger Escape Plan, taking their leave, Husbandry give hope that there's still much more to be accomplished with the genre, whether you're ready for it or not.
5. Angel Du$t - Rock the Fuck on Forever
With the split of Baltimore hardcore superstars Trapped Under Ice into a bevy of sub-bands and new projects, Angel Du$t might prove to be the best of the bunch. After leaving a band with a tough-love sound and ideology like TUI, Justice Tripp made the change over to AD and loosened up a little, letting more of himself come out in his singing. There's a life-of-the-party swagger to his vocals, dovetailing nicely with the band's riffing, which takes equal influence from Pavement and Gorilla Biscuits. With a lot of tough-guy bullshit weighing down the scene, AD are a light hand on your shoulder, reminding you not to be ashamed of having fun.
4. Kinoko Teikoku - Ai No Yume
The mid-2010s shoegaze explosion might've made people assume that the genre was seeing its first revival, when really it's always been going strong outside of the western world. Kinoko Teikoku have written an alternate future where shoegaze caught on with more than just record nerds. Ai No Yume takes the plethora of tones and sounds expounded upon by genre patriarchs Kevin Shields and Mark Gardener, transforming the dejected male identity into something new by way of singer Chiaki Satō. It's a bitch to find this record in domestic markets, but you should give it a whirl. This is something that can't be missed.
3. Weyes Blood - Front Row Seat to Earth
When we recently spoke, Natalie Mering of Weyes Blood made a passing comment that mankind is always on the brink of Armageddon. It lodged its way into my brain. Since then, every minor news development seems to back her statement up. In thinking about end times, I try to remove myself from a human-centric fear and ponder what will happen next, the beauty that will grow from our bones. That beauty's rendering in my head comes out in each of the videos Mering has made for her new record, Front Row Seat to Earth — places and people that look ravaged by some unknown force, and now feel like the background set during a play. Front Row goes against modern songwriting conventions, sounding like something of a different time and reality, the year's most nakedly gorgeous record.
2. Street Sects - End Position
Drugs and rock 'n' roll will probably never be separated, much to the extended suffering of musicians everywhere. It's a longstanding cliche that artists' work tends to be less poignant than when they were using, grossly implying that the addled version is the real deal. End Position is a spit in the face to these conventions, an angry industrial-punk record coming off of a binge. It reflects singer Leo Ashline's own path to sobriety, making the listener feel the same pain. The goth / industrial elements never fall into flimsy all-black self-parody; instead, these textures become sinister. The bangs of drums become fevered knocks at a door, synthesizers capturing the inner frenzy and fear of the mind. It's an achievement for industrial, one of the most pissed-off, angry records one can come into contact with.
1. Drose - Boy Man Machine
Just before this planet self-immolates, bands who are desperately putting together songs to try and make sense of their impending heat death will look for Drose for inspiration. Incubated in the unassuming, anonymous city of Columbus, Ohio, Boy Man Machine offers a startling, arresting marriage of drone and noise. Multiple identities both work and fight together, singer Dustin Rose creating these personalities with just his voice, turning himself into a man gasping for life and murder. The guitar work is equally as deranged, metallic chalkboard riffing mixing with industrial-strength drums to create a huge sound. It's impossible to forget the aggressiveness of the album, the weight of it all, the way it captures the feeling that society is about to collapse at any moment.
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ICYMI, here are best-of lists from John Hill and Zoe Camp: