Welcome to our eighth best-of-the-year list, and our second as a crack team of four. It’s patently obvious that 2016 has been thoroughly rubbish*, but at least we’ve had plenty of good music to set against the headlines, bowings-out and splittings-up. The compilation of our Top Thirty Records of 2016 was less painful than usual too, the smooth working of one well-oiled machine (we call him Pete). Still, those of you who come back every year will see that despite the neatness of the electoral process the list shows the usual surfeit of eclecticism.
So we invite you to view our shiny baubles, our fresh and seasonal produce. Not a turkey to be seen, apart from the four above. See you in 2017 – at the very least it won’t be 2016. Cheers!
(*although angrybonbon got married to the love of his life, so 2016 wasn’t all bad for everyone. Cheers!)
In the bubbling under category: Apostille: Virile Strain Transmission; The Belbury Poly: New Ways Out; Bob Mould: Patch the Sky; Weaves: Weaves; Radar Men From The Moon: Subversive II: Splendor of the Wicked; Ben Chatwin: Heat & Entropy; Steve Hauschildt: Strands; Hen Party: Glitter Sweats.
Reissues: Sweet Billy Pilgrim: We Just Did What Happened and No One Came
The Top Thirty:
30. Galcid: Hertz
29. Ogre & Dallas Campbell: Night of the Living Dead (Original Motion Picture Rescore)
28. Peter Baumann: Machines of Desire
27. Mugstar: Magnetic Seasons
26. Factory Floor: 25 25
25. Vanishing Twin: Choose Your Own Adventure
24. Barberos: Barberos
23. Goat: Requiem
22. Opeth: Sorceress
21. John Carpenter:Lost Themes II
20. Go March: Go March
Add Go March to your list of famous Belgians as this Antwerp band lay out a striking debut of spiky motorik and krautrock.
19. Juan Atkins & Moritz Van Oswald: Transport
Two of the heavyweights of techno come together as Borderland to produce the deepest beats and phasing loveliness.
18. Yak: Alas Salvation
Fearsome guitar noises, shouting, tunes. Victorious!
17. Grumbling Fur: FurFour
Mind-expanding pop music, featuring biblical patriarchs from outer space.
16. The Heartwood Institute: Calder Hall: Atomic Power Station
Sizzling with radioactivity, the polymath that is The Heartwood Institute delivers a beautiful slice of electro-hauntology.
15. The Pineapple Thief: Your Wilderness
Somerset’s greatest prog band return to form with King Crimson/Porcupine Tree drummer Gavin Harrison along for the ride.
14. Teleman: Brilliant Sanity
The second collection of slightly wonky but brilliant pop songs from a band who seem to be able to produce them without breaking a sweat.
13. Thee Oh Sees: A Weird Exits
San Francisco psych rockers manage what looks like a crossover smash on their first of their two records for 2016.
12. The Mortlake Bookclub: Exquisite Corpse
The only soundtrack you need for the Folk Horror Revival. Four movements of palimpsest drone that both spooks and moves.
11. Martha: Blisters in the Pit of my Heart
Reminds you it’s still possible to do quite a lot with the raw materials associated with ‘punk’ & ‘pop’ if you’re as smart and lively as this lot are.
10. worriedaboutsatan: Blank Tape
Brooding, ambient electronica and hypnotic atmospheric rhythms. Antoher top class album from this duo to follow last years’s Even Temper.
9. Posthuman: Back to Acid
12 tracks of caustic pleasure, from the robotic march of ‘Six Hundred’ to the delicious twang of ‘Beat Down’, via the excellent atmospheric throbber ‘Mezzotint’. I’ve said it before, Acid House is the new Dad Music.
8. Warning Light: Life Death Suite EP
Entrancing clatter and looping tones as a taster for the full album.
7. Teenage Fanclub: Here
It’s been six years since the last one, but the Fannies shine just as brightly as they ever did.
6. A Year in the Country: The Quietened Bunker
Nothing quite says 2016 like a compilation album on the theme of abandoned cold war structures and bunkers, because underground is where we’ll all be living soon after the nuclear button gets pressed. Unsettling drone, snatched samples, glitched beats and claustrophobic synths; it’s all here.
5. Meilyr Jones: 2013
So rich, extravagant, and strange that it sounds like a ‘best of’ album covering several years in an artist’s life; no single track can do it justice but this will do fine here:
4. Voyag3r: Are You Synthetic?
The perfect SF adventure album. From laser duels on frozen planets to war rockets being dispatched to Ajax, this album oozes class and sophistication whilst not taking itself too seriously. It’s the sound of a band having stupid amounts of fun and tracking ‘Flash Gordon On Ice: the Musical’ whilst they’re doing it. Utterly brilliant.
3. Gnod: Mirror
Our Salfordian troubadours picked up the guitars (or banjos as they like to call them) once again and proved why they lead the pack when it comes to enveloping sludge, resistant noise and all-consuming terror.
2. Matmos: Ultimate Care II
Two men, one washing machine and one track. Every sound made from said cleaning device. From intimate glitch to all-out pounding techno. Too see this live, replete with the machine, was to marvel at the wonder and genius that is Matmos. Amazing.
1. Oscillotron: Cataclysm
The purest and deepest space music. Cosmic kosmische of the highest order. An album that let us take flight and escape the hideousness of this worldly reality, especially as it unfolded this year. Transcendental.
So you can do yourself a big end-of-the-year favour and go buy some or all of the above albums. They are available from shops and sites – independent ones, big shiny ones, online ones (who pay their taxes), ones where there isn’t really a shop but you have to email some bloke. We like buying records – actually, we really do. And we think you should too.
Merry Xmas and a happy Newest Year one and all.
angrybonbon, JKneale, matthewpetty & Pete Collins
Bonged out openers for this much anticipated psych-fest were Horrid, a band I literally had passing knowledge of: I’d caught sight of them through a window at this year’s Sounds From The Other City, but given the offer of only Heineken to drink in the venue half of our party had decided we weren’t to stay. That afternoon, bedecked in hoods fashioned from sacks, they were making a wonderfully trashy and lurching racket. Thankfully tonight the costumes and the sounds were present again as they performed what was apparently or allegedly only their second gig. Consisting of one long industrial/spaced-out throb piece, interspersed by chants seemingly emanating from under the singer’s head sack, Horrid’s set was perfectly timed in its peaks and troughs, and got a series of heads nodding. Horrid are definitely worth keeping a (third) eye on (sorry).
Next up were Dwellings & Druss, two (core) members of the GNOD collective and the originators of the submerged techno dread of GNOD Presents. For some the idea of watching two blokes twiddling knobs on an array of samplers, mixing desks, compact synths and looping pedals is not entertainment. For me, however, it is heaven. Reversed sampled voices mixed and layered with reversed engineered neo-Acid. White noise and serrated interference stitched with bubblings and bangs. It’s hard to describe and praise enough this set of rabidly diverse leftfield rave noise. This is how improvised electronica should be and attests to the brilliant artful talent of GNOD and their multifarious offshoots.
I thought the evening had peaked. Then along came Mugstar and battered us with a truly sonic assault of riffed-up space rock. Pete Smyth shook his head from side to side with so much vigour you wondered whether he was auditioning for a remake of Jacob’s Ladder. Steve Ashton’s drums and Jason Stoll’s bass were unyielding. It was beautifully relentless. The music and strobed visuals held out a meditative intensity that made you question whether you were being subjected to and/or incorporated into some ritual of unknown aim and intent. Amazing and the best I’ve seen them.
Yes, that’s right dear reader: such was the overwhelming amount of top music this year we’ve given our end-of-year list a dose of max enlargement pills and extended it to a mighty top twenty.
Those that didn’t make this engorged run-down and hence reside in our honourable bubbling under category include: Swans – The Seer; Toy – Toy; Monolake – Ghosts; White Manna – White Manna; Easter – Innocence Man; Bass Clef – Reeling Skullways; Umberto – Night Has A Thousand Screams; The Eccentronic Research Council – 1612 Underture; and Mouse on Mars – Parastrophics.
A special mention goes to British Sea Power’s EPs 1-6. Well it wouldn’t be one of our lists without them, would it? If we could have counted these as one album it would have made the top five. Obviously.
So here it is, Merry Listmas. Everybody’s having fun (somewhere else).
20. Eat Light Become Lights – Heavy Electrics
19. Alexander Tucker – Third Mouth
18. White Hills – Frying On This Rock
17. Fanfarlo – Rooms Filled With Light
16. Wishmountain – Tesco
15. Drokk – Music Inspired by Mega-City One
14. Mugstar – Axis
13. Fighting Kites – Fighting Kites
12. Belbury Poly – The Belbury Tales
11. Euros Childs – Summer Special
10. Egyptology – The Skies
This analogue symphony had us frothing on about ancient astronauts and the geomancy of Giza back in July. It’s still taking us somewhere weird and wonderful. The best of the seemingly never-ending fascination with old synths and arpeggiators that pervades the world of electronica. Long may this fascination continue.
9. Deerhoof – Breakup Song
All over the shop, but in a good way, Deerhoof’s Breakup Song threw all kinds of idea together to make another off-kilter pop hit. Needs to be played loud.
8. Godspeed You! Black Emperor – ‘Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!
It came from nowhere, and nowhere on BBO will you find the review this album richly deserves. Yet it does exactly what you want a Godspeed! album to do, and then some. Colossal drones, magisterial builds and releases, and immense noise, all suffused with a politics for those that know.
7. Bill Fay – Life is People
Two astonishing albums at the start of the 1970s and then another one in 2012. The voice is warmer, but even more haunted, and Fay’s conviction still burns through as clearly as it ever has: “I personally need to believe that this world just can’t go on and on and on in the way that it goes.”
‘Be At Peace With Yourself’:
6. Beak > – >>
A marvellous pulsing head throb of analog musings and music from this threesome. Retro-futurism might not be a thing, but this sounds so extra-temporal we can’t help looking at the future through the past (and often vice-versa). If we had a record label of the year award it would probably go to Invada Records as well.
‘Mono’ (Ok, not technically on the album, but it’s a cracker):
5. Fang Island – Major
Like a cheeky-monkey off its bits on riffs. With shit-eating gurns and post-ironic chest bumps all round, Major is always there for the dark days and the light days. Simply…YES!
4. Plank! – Animalism
Owls and pigs. Owls, pigs and fighting ferrets. Animalism is nothing short of an extraordinary debut of Neu-proggish grooves and looped noodling and funk. Looked into the Owl’s eyes and agree. You now agree.
‘Dying for Pigs’:
‘King Rat I, II, III’:
3. Sweet Billy Pilgrim – Crown and Treaty
Prog, pop, country – Sweet Billy Pilgrim will do you an album containing all of those elements, and live they’ll throw in an a cappella version of ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ just to keep you guessing. Crown and Treaty is the sound of a great, genuinely original, band still discovering what they’re capable of.
2. Bob Mould – Silver Age
Ignore those people who tell you this is a ‘return to form’ – the amazing thing about Bob Mould is not that he’s produced an album reminiscent of the best of the Sugar records, but that he’s been writing songs this good since the early 1980s.
1. Goat – World Music
The hype realised for once. An album that possesses you. We called it a transnational psyche agenda for the weird underground and we stand by these words. Syncretic brilliance. Stunning.
Det Som Aldrig Förändras/Diarabi:
A massive thanks to everyone who has supported us, read these ramblings and listened to anything we’ve recommended this year. You probably will never know how much we appreciate it.
jkneale and angrybonbon
[All of these lovely records are available from shops – independent ones, big shiny ones, online ones (who pay their tax), ones where there isn’t really a shop but you have to email some bloke. We like buying records – actually, we really do. And we think you should too, so if you like any of this and haven’t already bought them, go on! They’ll be cheap by now]
Chaps and chapesses, Mugstar are very much back floating and crashing through space. And Axis might well prove to be their masterpiece.
Underpinned by an impenetrable defence of pounding drums, ‘Black Fountain’ immediately sets the thrust controls to the heart of the asteroid belt. ‘Hollow Ox’ has a Deep Purple hue and could almost be a paean to the recently lost Jon Lord. Composed around an aching sense of solitude such traces of melancholy further seethe through ‘Tangerina’. The loneliness of the Space Trucker perhaps?
The opening of ‘In Earth’ underlines the theme right up to the point whereby something switches and a sense of purposeful resolve begins to surface. ‘Axis Modulator’ deepens this determination and seems to attempt to do what its title suggests through a total hammering and those catatonic chants that comprise Mugstar’s vocals. ‘UpTurnSideDown’ and ‘Vehicles of Spain’ seem to be ritual appeasements to all that’s left by the modulation.
The album finishes with what sounds like a studio outtake declaring “I’ve got my mojo working”; with Axis it’s certain Mugstar have it working just fine. Let it work on you.
Axis is out 19th of November with an album launch on the 13th of November at London’s Lexington (with DJ John Doran…nice). It can be pre-ordered here.
Here’s ‘Black Fountain’ live in Paris:
And here they are covering t’Wind:
In an incredibly desperate attempt to describe these sounds, this is the situation…
There’s a storm coming. You can feel it in your pores. It bloody hurts. Head throbbing, skin tensing and crackling, the ground beneath you feels ready to buckle. You’re ready to fight, with anything and anybody. You want that rain to come to dispense with all the tension, illness and stuff. The fibres of the world need wringing out. The air fills with the portentous and the ominous. The stillness is suffocating. Bastard.
The rain comes, yet not in the hoped for wave and deluge. Instead it fades, almost slides in. It might not be the biblical black rain you’d had faith in, but it comes nonetheless. But then the throb returns and your desires for the flood become anxious. It never comes. You resign yourself to the pleasure of constant tension and apprehension. It’s peculiar but incredibly gratifying. The swearing and cussing (temporarily) ceases.
It needn’t matter that I’ve never seen the film that Mugstar’s Ad Marginem soundtracks (based around Liverpool I believe). It needn’t matter because this is Mugstar at their most intelligent and evocative. They might have returned from their space travels for this album – it might be more meteorological than astrological – but it reveals a progression in their sound that’s both exciting and gives hope for this here fan. And with another album on the horizon (Axis, due 29th October 2012, pre-order here) it’s a great time to be a Mugstar fan.
Mugstar ‘Act 1’ @ Rough Trade East, London. 29/6/12:
The problem with an end-of-the-year-list is that it can act as an insurmountable mental barrier to reviewing albums that were released in that year and weren’t considered for it when one begins thinking about the first post of the new year. Thus, if said new year post intends to review something from the previous year accusations of laziness and sham might fly. Quite how a change in the calendar has such a potential is something I’ve yet to resolve. This post, therefore, can be seen as part of a current and ongoing psychological battle I’ve been waging to overcome this malady. In fact I intend to win this battle and banish this silly disease by not only reviewing an album that came out in 2010, but one by a band that featured in our best of the year top ten. I will be victorious. I hope.
Mugstar’s Lime is composed of four tracks that splendidly continue the space-psyche n’ roll theme developed on …Sun, Broken…. Two are of the battering and assaulting riff variety, whilst the others are of a gliding blissful nature. Opener ‘Sunburnt Impedance Machine’ immediately introduces the riff that you half expect to be continued throughout its 7.42 length (a trick Loop were masters at), but then differentiates it in unforeseen ways until you submit to its edgy charms. ‘Serra’ is motorik minimalism with simple Hammond organ lines writing a melody and ‘Beyond the Sun’ shimmers and hazes with a meditative bass line as undertow.
Best of all is ‘Radar King’ which delivers a proper mauling for the first three minutes or so until an extended dropout and meticulously revived build-up alter the tension as a prelude to the screaming and yowling, and frankly intimidating, finale.
Purchase Lime here.
We used a spreadsheet this year. Yes, a bloody spreadsheet.
It’s still not a perfect representation of what was an excellent year for music or, in fact, what we individually valued, but it will have to do. And at least we arrived at a top ten rather than the fudge of a top four we presented to you, adoring reader(s), this time last year.
Residing in the bubbling under category for 2010 were cracking albums by: The Hold Steady, Titus Andronicus, Holy Fuck, Wavves, Silver Mt Zion, The Divine Comedy, To Rococo Rot, Gold Panda, Thomas White, The Phantom Band, and Wooden Shjips.
Which – when we look at it – is a pretty amazing set of also-rans. It was a good year for music, like we said. Here’s a Spotify playlist of (nearly) all the artists we loved from 2010.
And the honourable reissues were:
Nosferatu D2 – We’re Gonna Walk Around This City With Our Headphones On To Block Out The Noise. If this had been released this year it would have been in our collective top 20. It’s brilliant.
The Wonder Stuff – Hup (21st Anniversary Edition). More of a remake than a reissue, but still a pile of beautiful bile and hoe-down pop silliness.
And now, in reverse order for the sheer hell of it, here’s our top ten of ’10:
10. Drum Eyes: Gira Gira
Cloaks on! Enormous squelchy head-nodding sounds from DJ Scotch Egg and team. Engaging, mesmerising, sounds ace really really loud.
9. Four Tet: There Is Love In You
Kieran Hebden – one of Putney’s finest exports – leaves the folktronica to one side and steers a rewardingly wobbly path between the tricksy and the tuneful. Consistently rewarding.
8. Mugstar: …Sun, Broken…
Space-rock for the now age. Gloriously large riffage and droned workouts that eat your ears.
7. The European: In a Very Real Sense Now
Deserves a proper review, really, and it might just get one before the end of the year. Simon Break writes tunes your postman could whistle and lyrics than are still making us laugh eight months after we first heard them. Proper pop for the not easily pleased.
6. The National: High Violet
After a good deal of excited waiting we got something like the album we were waiting for. Something of a breakthrough/crossover album, though the production arguably blunted some of the charm. When it worked – particularly on ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’ – it made you think there was hope for this big indie band thing after all.
5. Fang Island: Fang Island
A refreshing lack of po-faced sincerity, this record is a joy from start to finish. If you can’t smile to and with this record there’s something wrong with you and the world.
Life Coach – Fang Island
4. Teenage Fanclub – Shadows
Baby Lee – Teenage Fanclub
3. I Like Trains – He Who Saw the Deep
Not-so-difficult second album helped out by fan pledges – definitely one of the best ways of getting round the problem of making music pay for itself. Still doing an excellent job at the point on the Venn diagram where songs and post-rock meet, with Guy Bannister’s voice more than holding up against the swelling guitars and drums. Wonderful.
Progress is a Snake – I Like Trains
2. Teeth Of The Sea – Your Mercury
An album that re-instates your faith that the musically new is possible after all. Properly disquieting, epic and expansive, TOTS push at barriers you didn’t realise existed until they’re collapsing around your head. We love ’em.
You’re Mercury – Teeth of the Sea
1. No Age – Everything In Between
Abstract interludes, all out DIY two-chorders, angsty beauty and everything in between. A truly staggering achievement of tortured guitars, noise and harmonies. We both saw them live this year and were left grinning like shit-eating tortoises. Marvellous.
Shed and Transcend – No Age
We hope you enjoyed. Merry Christmas. And see you soon.
Jkneale and angrybonbon
[All of these lovely records are available from shops – independent ones, big shiny ones, online ones, ones where there isn’t really a shop but you have to email some bloke. We like buying records – actually, we really do. And we think you should too, so if you like any of this and haven’t already bought them, go on! They’ll be cheap by now]
I don’t know about you but I’m in the mood for some Space Rock. And you’d be hard pressed to find any better proponents out there than Mugstar and their tremendous …Sun, Broken…
Opener ‘Technical Knowledge As A Weapon’ presents a mauling riff with an equally battering Jon Lord-esque Hammond Organ. ‘Ouroborus’ is part assault and part moody meditation, ending with a spectacular feedback finale that could easily equate to the sound of serpentine self-immolation. Last track ‘Furklausundbo’ jams out for a wonderfully broody, dramatic and hypnotically funky thirteen and a half minutes or so.
Yet, sandwiched between the unnerving harmonics of ‘Labrador Hatchet’ and the womb-like pulse of ‘She Ran Away With My Medicine’, it’s the throbbing and skilfully shifting wig-out of ‘Today Is The Wrong Shape’ that really hits the spot. After a few listens you realise the sentiment of the title is strikingly appropriate most (if not all) of the time and that howling along is strangely curative.
The Mr Cope of Wessex described this lot as managing “to distil/streamline all the best late Lemmy-period Hawkwind into a tougher and more speedfreaked out version of top flight La Dusseldorf”. Such a review is obviously more eloquent and accurate than this one, but should, if nothing else, have you purchasing …Sun, Broken… immediately – from here.