favorite albums

These are my fourteen favorite albums of 2016. They're in chronological order by release date, and I've include some meaningless phrases to pretend to say something about them.

Roly Porter - Third Law (Triangle)

It's typically ambient pads or saturated drones that easily drift into space. "Third Law" does it with more dynamic, narrative drama, in a style most closely matched by Porter's 2013 "Life Cycle of a Massive Star." More than other "modern classical" composers whose work is making its way into film scores, Porter employs a mastery of foregrounded electronic manipulations, searing noise, massive sub-bass. The blender of Gantz Graf meets the strings and voices of sci-fi. The music manages to be intense, ethereal, intriguing, multifaceted.

On another note, it's funny how listening to something among others magnifies its qualities, even that of being totally boring. For example last night, with a couple of people:

"This is cool, what's this?"

"Roly Porter's album from earlier in the year."


"This sounds like some sci-fi soundtrack. That's cool."


"What are we listening to, the Superman soundtrack?"

"Yeah, it's dramatic."


"We're listening to the Superman soundtrack, yes."

"Dude, this totally could be the Superman soundtrack."


Is this what Reich finds disgusting (or whatever)? I'm sticking with it.


Skee Mask - Shred (Ilian Tape)

Solid album from all angles. Arced and paced, sonically, rhythmically detailed, heavy on breakbeats, and emotive. Built on legacy (I'm hearing Shackleton, Sandwell, Convextion, Autechre, Detroit all put through a particular lens) while moving forward.


Anenon - Petrol (Friends of Friends)

Strings, arpeggio synth sequences, grainy reeds(!), speedy drumkit breaks, field recordings, stereo delays, REVERB. It's moody music, good for the rain. Good for Michael Mann. Rainy LA into sunrise.


Vijay Iyer & Wadada Leo Smith - A Cosmic Rhythm with Each Stroke (ECM)

It's a great pairing, mostly pensive and somber, lights low. The nature of the instruments places Smith's trumpet as more of the agent and Iyer's piano as the ground, but the strongest moments are in the interplay, sometimes including minimal electronic elements, everything working together. I was able to witness a moving performance of this at Occidental this year.


Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith - Ears (Western Vinyl)

Here's what I said back then:

Wow. Gorgeous, sensitive atmospheres, calling to mind the organs and horns of Terry Riley, the minimalist spirals of kosmische, and the vocal treatments of Laurie Anderson or The Knife. This will make the list.

This year there were a couple of items I expected to make my final list that didn't and a few things that grew into place. In the case of "Ears" it was clear on the first listen. The "modular sound" has been so done these past five years or so, but here she managed to bring a special touch to it with the vocal element. It also has an enjoyable pastoral ease. There are definite rifts and rises, but they're all within a constrained range.


Ash Koosha - I AKA I (Ninja Tune)

There's been so much great chunky, decimated weirdo dance noise from Ling, M.E.S.H., the masters Autechre, and a host of others, but this one stands out. Maybe it's the string samples that win me over, but these are some of the best beats this year. Heavy on melody.


Aesop Rock - The Impossible Kid (Rhymesayers)

Aesop Rock is one of the best verse writers (I guess I should just say lyricists). With each listen, new lines stand out for appreciation. I hear this and basically marvel at the fact that he was able to write these verses. The album is more obviously personal than past work.


Jungle - Live at Okuden (ESP-Disk)

Mat Walerian, Matthew Shipp, Hamid Drake. Last year ESP released an outstanding duo between Walerian and Shipp as The Uppercut, also called "Live at Okuden," which made it onto my year-end list of favorites. This release adds Hamid Drake to the mix for a 100-minute live recording. The program has everything from somber melodies to frenetic wailing, blues passages, post-bop, and some free breakouts. Some outstanding soloing, both powerful and delicate, finds its place among knotty interplay. With music like this I'm always curious about the notation, how detailed the compositions are, what non-standard instructions they might employ, and what's left up to the player. There's really a lot of "content" here in this release. Drake and Shipp are always strong, and Walerian has emerged with some excellent recordings in the past couple of years. I think these groups/names (Uppercut, Jungle) are probably just for this recording/release, but it would be awesome for this group to tour. Blue Whale. Make it happen.


Tyshawn Sorey - The Inner Spectrum of Variables (Pi Recordings)

Somewhere in jazzland the listing of this moving release came along. Tyshawn Sorey is an amazing drummer (for another example from this year, listen to the all-star Zorn recording Flaga (Taborn, McBride, Sorey)), but here his primary role is composer to a wide range of traditions, techniques, and tones, bringing them into a fresh, arching work. It's a beautiful recording. Looking forward to June...

J Balvin - Energía (Capitol Latin / Universal)

It would be dishonest of me to exclude this. Easily had the most replays this year in the car. The delivery is easy and flowing. Clear studio production. What song is best? Veneno? Malvada? Perde los modales? Snapchat? Ginza? 35 pa las 12?? I can't decide. OK, 35/12 in the car. Weddings, holiday parties, and the like all let me down this year. They could have at least played 6AM. Thanks 96.3. Will pass on the videos at this moment.


Ka - Honor Killed the Samurai (Iron Works Records)

"I know words. I have the best words." Life is still hard.

s l o w f l o w


Bethan Kellough - Aven (Touch)

Bethan Kellough's recording represents the best of what Touch is about, from barely-audible passages to romantic strings, open field recordings to contact mic application. The natural and performed are composed (and in this case performed) to connect us with the world. This was another INSTANT WINNER.


Solange - A Seat at the Table (Saint / Columbia)

There's nothing for me to say that hasn't been said, as this one's making it to the top of many year-end lists. The music works on many levels, assertive but contemplative, focused on frustration, endurance, and successes that are personal, (most importantly) local(ized), and ultimately universal. It's critical, catchy, laid-back. It's another one that had heavy rotation. It's of this time.

Sendai - Ground and Figure (Editions Mego)

Just out last Friday, Peter Van Hoesen and Yves De Mey return as Sendai for this workout in crisp, icy, booming, torn techno-IDM that builds, collapses, and falls back into step. Elements change as soon as they seem to solidify. It's music that warps time and space if it's loud enough.

The text will change, I'm sure.


I went back and forth on some different things.
Demdike Stare survives.

Demdike Stare - Wonderland (Modern Love)

does everything it needs to
great review huh
maybe I'll add something to this

more releases soon

meanwhile I've started the year review


Logos & Mumdance Present Different Circles

minimal, maximal, bassy, goes hard

3 for now

Keith Jarrett - A Multitude of Angels (ECM)

How many archived Keith Jarret recordings do we need? I'm glad to have this one. There's a wide range of content here, much of it preceded by exploratory meandering that seems to discover a flow and destination, or stumble on some moment of magic, whether it's somber, pensive, minimal, or a blues extrapolation. Repeated listens --> new discoveries.

Meredith Monk - On Behalf of Nature (ECM)

Voices, pulses, and maybe a little safer than usual but also more enjoyable.

Okkyung Lee, Christian Marclay - Amalgam (Northern Spy)

Dynamic improv session.

almost time to evaluate

OK, here are two more. With words. Have been in strong rotation.

Metasota - #RUMDMT

favorite song: ain't no love. rapping.

Solange - A Seat at the Table (Saint Records)

it's all there

the missing 5th

Jenny Hval - Blood Bitch (Sacred Bones Records)

This was the one I didn't include earlier.

who wore it best

OK so we have a duo of duos.
Very different.
Listened to each about six times so far with the intention of choosing a preference,
but it just doesn't happen.

So they both make it.

Bobby Kapp & Matthew Shipp - Cactus (Northern Spy Records)

Another awesome duet for Shipp. Love the blues buried in the knots.

Joshua Redman & Brad Mehldau - Nearness (Nonesuch)

A very different kind of sound, more accessible, more floral, and more obvious solo showcasing. In some ways not as full of interest and discoveries as the session above, but also opens itself to an easier emotional connection. Looks like they're playing here... tonight. oh, well

Then there's that Wollny and Peirani, but I've just started listening to the album.

3 (should be 4)

There's something I'd add but it's so far ahead of its release date that I feel weird about it. So moving on...

clipping. - Splendor & Misery (Sub Pop)

Excellent alternative production, some amazing rapping, strong narrative theme, and interesting lyrics. "what more could you ask for?"
There was another recent "rappers in space" album (Logic's Incredible Story album, which I enjoyed), but here things are more adventurous and interesting in almost all dimensions.

Pearson Sound Live at Rural Festival

It's rare that I include non-release DJ mixes here, but I've really enjoyed and repeated this recent mix.

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith & Suzanne Ciani - Sunergy (RVNG Intl.)

The FRKWYS series continues to impress. There are of course so many of these modular kosmichey releases, but this one stands out as a soft-edged trip.


Bethan Kellough - Aven (Touch)

This is a stunning performance of field recordings and strings, filled with drama and intrigue, grand gestures and detailed sounds. Diana and I were at the Touch showcase where this was recorded, and we both left agreeing that this performance (which was not headlining) was the best, so it's great to get to hear that confirmation in this touching release, which manages to be sonically intriguing and very human. This approach can sometimes sound like a space station 200 years in the future, whereas here it's more like humanity crawling from the caves, which accesses deeper.

August 2

Dan Cray - Outside In (Origin)

Really nice, mellow, mostly straight-ahead jazz. I have decided it will be present among snow and a fire. It will happen.

Convextion - 2845 (Mojuba)

There's that one label doing the electro thing and every release sounds the same. Not this! Great to hear from Convextion again.


Ka - Honor Killed the Samurai (Iron Works Records)

Not exactly bangers, but this has a distinct tone carried through in the instrumentals, the delivery, and the content, vivid imagery, poetic constructions.

3 musicccs

Ian William Craig - Centres (FatCat Records)

Beautiful album in the vein of Fennesz, Sakamoto, Sylvian, but ultimately its own.

1-800 DINOSAUR Presents Trim

Maybe the best grime-or-not full-length I've heard. Balanced toward letting the beats / unique instrumentals shine, but since they're not particularly dense or saturated this fits well with the vocals.


From noise to rhythms, it's a particularly well-executed collision of the old "splintered beats" IDM thing and the current "post-club" thing with some moments that are undeniably [non-post] club. Lots of concrete samples.

good ones

These are pretty different from each other.

Glauco Venier - Miniatures (ECM)

This is a beautiful album of small piano and barely-percussion pieces. At times sounding like Sakamoto, at times sounding like Jarrett, but ultimately sounding like its own thing.

Christian Fennesz & Jim O'Rourke - It's Hard for Me to Say I'm Sorry (Editions Mego)

I'm glad this lived up to the sum of its parts and more. I've seen opposing views, but I feel like the best of both artists are brought together into something neither would make on his own. The sound is thick. 2 long pieces.

David Toop - Entities Inertias Faint Beings (Room 40)

Toop proves himself a master of sound minutiae or at least the music that provokes listening for it. Environmental sounds haunted by memories of performed instruments.

J Balvin - Energía (Capitol Latin)

This is very pop, but I can't deny the album. Have probably played this in my car every day for the past 3 or 4 weeks, I guess subtracting my trip, though I heard Ginza and Bobo out in Spain. This could probably be divided into songs that really go and songs that are whatever, but it's been on repeat.

3 for June

Jesse Osborne-Lanthier and Grischa Lichtenberger - CSLM (Cosmo Rhythmatic)

Intense, varied, sonically precise exploration of sound, rhythm, and texture that I'm surprised to read comes from performances on CRTs and VHS machines... the remixes fit in perfectly, iterating interestingly on the themes but maintaining the flow as something that can be listened to like an album.

Objekt - Kern vol. 3 (Tresor)

This mix reminds me of the Journeys by DJ series (and maybe I'm thinking specifically of Coldcut's well-known mix) in its variety, but is rooted in techno. It experiment but stays solid. Worthy as a catalog release.

Golfam Khayam & Mona Matbou Riahi - Narrante (ECM)

Amazing contemporary chamber performances of Persian-rooted music from the Naqsh Duo, clarinet and guitar. Would love to attend a performance.

these go here

these are going to make it.

Jungle - Live at Okuden (ESP-Disk)

Tyshawn Sorey - The Inner Spectrum of Variables

Next Time it Will Be Summer

Autechre - elseq 1-5 (Warp)

Sounds in line with what I heard on their recent/current tour. Some wild noise, some evolving drones, some heavy beats... good mix of approaches from their history, a wide range of content here. There have been some complaints (not looking at watmm) about length. While I suppose I could agree that finding the best 100 minutes or so of content here might make a more concise and rewarding listen (I just tried to do this and managed to take it down to 120), there's just so much that's good here for that to be a major downside. Autechre do it.

M.E.S.H. - Damaged Merc (Pan)

There's this "post-club" label that gets thrown around (I normally use the term "noisy stuff," though this is quite different from Merzbow), and it really applies here (post-club). This music is noisy, danceable, IDM from the future rather than the past. Feels a lot more rhythmically driven and precise than the excellent Piteous Gate album. Anyway, cool music.

Masabumi Kikuchi - Black Orpheus (ECM)

This is a beautiful recording, from the atonal clusters to the lyrical moments. Never feels over-played. Excellent closing statement. Had the pleasure of seeing him at the Motian memorial...

Klara Lewis - Too (Editions Mego)

The pieces on this album are arrestingly narrative, in that they progress in a way that is abstract enough to be unpredictable but paced to be follow-able. Despite the sounds and methods used here, the music does not leave you grasping or disappear into a background, but impressively guides you along. More interesting than I expected.

I need to hear her last album and see a show... this is cool:


Excellent contemporary techno.. Not super dancefloor-oriented, but it could work and could easily be tooled. This reminds me heavily of a conversation once on this forum I used to be on (erave) where someone (won't name names) brought up some graphic related to waves of sunlight and was relating to to some ideal of techno. It was probably all pretty pretentious, but I feel like this would fit into that conversation. That person had a great handle... Listening to it a 4th time or so I also was struck by the dub buried in parts of it it, from the little echoey passages to the use of noise... like taking basic channel to a new place.

It's Almost June

Antwood - Virtuous.scr (Planet Mu)

I wonder how many more of these surgical, refined noise albums can sustain my interest. At the moment, despite the demands of the sound, there's no fatigue in sight, and this is another great one. (In the vein of Ash Koosha, Arca, etc.)

John Zorn - Flaga Book of Angels Volume 27 (Tzadik)

Christian McBride is on point, we already know Craig Taborn is the man, and percussionist Tyshawn Sorey is on fire. It's great to hear Book of Angels material in this traditional jazz trio setting with such excellent players. I thought this was just going to be another good album of Zorn competitions, but it stands out.

Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool (XL Recordings)

It's another excellent Radiohead album. Melodies, rhythm, lyrics, elements all on point. Everything to like.

Elon Katz - The Human Pet (Diagonal)

This one's pretty weird, but it definitely grew on me. For me it kind of picks up where Jamie Lidell left off before Multiply, with some more contemporary approaches, advancing the tight, Prince-inspired electronic funk of various Eurofolk I could list. Has some aesthetic ties with the last Holly Herndon album as well, but with an industrial edge. whatever this all means...

Aesop Rock - The Impossible Kid (Rhymesayers Entertainment)

I don't have much to say, but the album is great. Unfolds, unfolds, and unfolds upon repeat listens. Personal, touching, funny, catchy, thought-provoking... good.
Aesop Rock's one of these artists who just keeps getting better and is in my top 5.

rap and rap

smith and iyer were fantastic

anyway, two very different rap albums

Dälek - Asphalt for Eden (Profound Lore)

It's cool to hear a rap album this drowned-in-sound. Dälek make their own lane. The instrumentals would stand on their own, but then we also have the lyrics/concepts to work with. It's good.

Royce da 5'9" - Layers (Bad Half Entertainment)

Rapping and rapping. I keep going back to this in the car... Many flows/concepts in the album, some of which I don't completely understand, but for me there are too many great rapping moments here to deny, as well as strong instances of emotion, introspection, commentary, etc... ultimately it's a fairly "traditional" rap album at a high level.

4 for the Now

Vijay Iyer & Wadada Leo Smith - A Cosmic Rhythm with Each Stroke (ECM)

There’s a kind of natural/inevitable-feeling progression of this music, as the sounds and spaces generated by Smith & Iyer weave a contemplative space that grooves without being locked, twists without meandering, flows without passivity. The album manages to surpass its automatic on-paper greatness, and both artists are pretty much on top of things.

Looking forward to Friday.

Studio OST - Scenes (2012-2015) (Lustwerk Music)

Sublime techno nightdrive.

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith - Ears (Western Vinyl)

Wow. Gorgeous, sensitive atmospheres, calling to mind the organs and horns of Terry Riley, the minimalist spirals of kosmische, and the vocal treatments of The Knife and Laurie Anderson. This will make the list.

Ash Koosha - I AKA I (Ninja Tune)

Exciting moves in the pretty-big-right-now vein of noisy IDM. Enough obnoxious pitched up samples to push me out of my comfort zone, the obliterated shreds of sound for automatic noise interest, and the rhythms/groove actually go. The album’s on-trend while both pushing forward and speaking to the past (of stuff I like). Mudafossil. Cool stuff.

More Music

Is this all I'll ever post about?

OK, well here's some new great stuff...

Anenon - Petrol (Friends of Friends)

Great melting atmospheres of electronics, field recordings, saxophone, but with a strong narrative musicality.

Julian Lage - Arclight (Mack Avenue Records)

I'm usually not crazy about jazz guitar (I write as I listen to Kenny Burrell's "God Bless the Child"), but I find myself coming back to this album and its unique exploration of techniques and moods, if within a general range. Had a chance to see Lage locally about a year ago and was totally impressed (with Eric Harland instead of Kenny Wollesen... I'm fans of both). I was excited about this album but enjoyed it more than I expected...

Julian Lage- Ryland from Lost Pilot on Vimeo.

joefarr - Sense of Purpose (Bloc)

super solid ravey quality that goes. thank you

Elzhi - Lead Poison (GLOW 365)

Not the next-level instant classic I think he has potential for, but it's still a solid album with good songs, and a release from Elzhi is welcome and long overdue. I love the soul-sampling beats of songs like "Weedipedia," "Friendzone" (my favorite on the album), and "Cloud."

Steve Kuhn - At This Time (Sunnyside Records)

This is fairly straight-ahead stuff (meaning I'll enjoy it but not get too excited about it), but after multiple listens without paying attention, I finally sat down at home and felt the fire. The group is so "on" in this record. Will have to look out for touring... (I suppose LA is unlikely, sadly).

dBridge / Loxy & Resound - Average Echo / Heritage (Convex Industries)

It's just a single, but the first track from dBridge KILLS.

beats are alive and well
all good:
elusive - textures
samiyam - animals have feelings
knxwledge - hex.9.8_ (remixes)

here's your music

Ling - Attachment (Codes)

More awesome noisy craziness

Tim Hecker - Love Streams (4AD)

Doing what he does best. Am I too early on this?

Skee Mask - Shred (Ilian Tape)

cool techno / breakbeat / bass

Rangda - The Heretic's Bargain (Drag City>

When do I get to see a live show?

ok, more music

Savages - Adore Life (Matador Records)

Frank has done it again. I do prefer the prior, but this is good. Too bad I'll have to miss the show. Would like more dynamic range. It's been said.

Roly Porter - Third Law (Tri-Angle Records)

Sure, I already talked about it last year, but I was way ahead of time. Amazing spacey future sound design.

Junior Boys - Big Black Coat (City Slang)

Great poppy album. Clear ties between this and the Jesse Lanza that got massive rotation in the car. Really impressed with the handle on electronic music styles, from house to techno to 'bass music' (Love Is a Fire), all with their own idiosyncratic signature on production. Great What You Won't Do for Love cover. It's good.

nonkeen - The Gamble (R&S Records)

Supreme electroacoustic listening jams.

Paul Jebanasam - Continuum (Subtext Recordings)

This and the Roly Porter album. What if I could only keep one?

Genevieve Lacey - Pleasure Garden (ABC Classics)

This is a strange and intriguing album that I came across browsing iTunes' classical page at the beginning of the year. Did not expect to be listening to it over and over.
It's a mix of performed music, often/mostly flute, and natural sounds. The flutes range from slow, meditative, and oddly-expressed, to Renaissance-sounding melodies (likely the Jacob van Eyck works I see mentioned in the descriptions) that are smartly paced and pensive, as the Renaissance flute sound can unfortunately superficially come across as goofy, depending on the performance and recording.
This project actually follows an installation for the garden of Vaucluse House as part of Sydney Fesetival. Read more about it here.
Translated to a great album.

David Bowie - Blackstar (ISO)

I heard it a couple of times before he died and enjoyed the music but wasn't really struck.
I've listened to it more times since, and its lyrical and total power have grown on me.


Forest Hills 2014 should have been on my favorites of 2014, not just an honorable mention.
(listened to it again yesterday)

2015 music

Time for my favorite albums of the year.

15. Simon Scott - Insomni (Ash International)

Atmospheric textural album of guitar distortion, picking, field recordings. Music from instruments made to feel like a cohesive natural environment.

14. Milo - So the Flies Don't Come (Ruby Yacht)

Milo steps up with stronger songs and fewer stream-of-consciousness-seeming non-sequiturs, while further developing his voice and idiosyncrasies. The songs pay off in content, sound, delivery. In other news, Hemlock Ernst featured on EVERYTHING this year.

13. Donnie Trumpet & the Social Experiment - Surf

Hard-to-deny positive, poppy album. Free to download.

12. Kamasi Washington - The Epic (Brainfeeder)

There may be something a little obnoxious about how much attention this attention-deserving album received, but it's an epic presentation of orchestration, soul-jazz, and multiple other modes of afrocentric art centered around an excellent player. Its sound is a little out-of-tune with other leading jazz releases, in a good, unapologetically romantic way.

11. Akira Rabelais - The Little Glass (Akira Rabelais)

With the help of Harold Budd, Rabelais constructs an ethereal work that draws on the tradition represented so well in this year's Rothko Chapel release on ECM and can also be compared with the Sleep album on DG. Minimalist sculptural fragments make way for Disc 2's droning hypnotism.

10. M.E.S.H. - Piteous Gate (Pan)

Precision noisy music is in good shape these days, and this was an awesome release. Warped visions of contemporary styles.

9. Mette Henriette S/T (ECM)

Unique, mysterious, fascinating double album, beginning with one side of ultra-sensitive treatment among strings and at times barely audible air passing through the reed. The great album artwork doesn't lie.

8. Arca - Mutant (Mute)

Arca destroys with this album, a noisy one. Easy favorite:

7. Bjork - Vulnicura (One Little Indian)

Bjork's fairly settled in her amazing sound, which has always engaged electronic music/cultures in interesting ways. The songs on this album are lyrically brutal, with more engaging emotional stakes than recent projects.

6. Holly Herndon - Platform (4AD)

Dance music's great, but we can do more with it. Herndon's album sounds great on the surface, but engaging with her ideas behind the music, expressed mostly in interviews and videos (aside from of course in the album itself) make for even more rewarding listening.

5. The Uppercut: Matthew Shipp Mat Walerian Duo - Live at Okuden (ESP-Disk)

Amazing sympathetic piano-sax interaction. Often somber, sometimes blues-inflected, sometimes explosive. I wasn't familiar with Walerian, and Shipp had already released another excellent album this year, so this was a nice surprise. Reminds me of the performances I was able to hear at The Stone.

4. Vijay Iyer Trio - Break Stuff (ECM)

Continuously interesting. Every time I listen to this it strikes me as an exceptionally "modern" ideal for the type of thing contemporary jazz ensembles should be doing. I of course love that there's a Robert Hood tribute, but most of all I enjoy the complex and beautiful music. Leading band.

3. Joanna Newsom - Divers (Drag City)

I never thought I'd have Joanna Newsom in one of my year-end lists, but I've slowly (stupidly) come to appreciate her voice over the past few years and finally found this album to be gorgeous. Often with music it takes some effort to give full attention for the duration, being distracted by everything the machine in front of me or the environment around me has to offer. With this album I instead found myself stopping whatever I was doing to just lie down and listen to nothing but these captivating songs.

2. Busdriver - Thumbs

Busdriver's better than ever, following up last year's excellent Perfect Hair with this album, constantly pushing sounds, delivery, lyrics forward with a poetic, intelligent, honest, and still celebratory perspective on his art, the media, race, and culture in general. His perspective carries a complex nuance calling for repeated close listening, and unlike many rap albums the repeated listens are thought-provoking rather than disappointing. Again features the everywhere-this-year Hemlock Ernst as well as the other person who was everywhere this year (perhaps even moreso), Anderson Paak. I really went back and forth between TPAB and this as a favorite. While the former's precision-calculated polish (budget), with great decisions made along the way, helps push it more firmly into masterpieceland, Thumbs' unpredictability and experimentalism (while sounding great) speak more to my sensibilities. I've switched the two back and forth on this list and had thought of Thumbs as being more like Cassavetes' Shadows and TPAB more like Wyler's Ben-Hur (to choose two from the same year), in which case I would go with Cassevetes, but...

1. Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly (TDE)

It may be a major label release with a big budget and likely many people to review, but this 79-minute album does actually take some interesting chances and come out on top. Another album with rewarding ambiguities, though I may share fewer final sentiments here, is Kendrick Lamar's latest epic classic. Tired words from C-sections, but appropriate here. It's at once extremely personal and also broadly social/socially-relevant, with a peerless future-jazz sound. The album's scope is huge and places his activity on a plateau above anyone else with anywhere near his popularity. So hopefully this is the last time I'm saving this already-published post.

Some final notes:

1. Kind of a lot of saxophone...

2. This was a great year for noisy albums. Although only a few are on here, albums from Roly Porter, ADR, Dialect, Oneohtrix Point Never, Kenneth Kirschner, Robin Fox, Pinkcourtesyphone, Shapednoise, Mika Vainio, and many others were all very good. There's always a lot of these albums coming out, but it seemed particularly strong this year.

3. I've always been a bit critical of publications' year-end lists featuring their predictable darlings, but it makes sense. If my favorite artists release albums, I guess I'm likely to be appreciative.

4. This, right now:


last batch

OK, here's the last set before final evaluations begin tomorrow.

arca - mutant
noisy and goes

akira rabelais - the little glass
great minimalist expression

adr - deceptionista
crisp and detailed, more noisy

roly porter - third law
you've done it again

dawn richard - blackheart
pop maximalism, checked out due to #1 placement on fact list

and so the shortlist is:

big loada

Trying to post this the way I used to... with images, videos, etc., but kind of hating the way things are set up. So here's a list... lots of good stuff, from a broader encounter w/good stuff:


Rothko Chapel (ECM)

Kim Kashkashian, Sarah Rothenberg, Steven Schick, Houston Chamber Choir, Robert Simpson performing Morton Feldman, Erik Satie, John Cage

Rothko Chapel’s excellent program draws together work of contemporaries John Cage and Morton Feldman, along with Cage’s beloved Erik Satie (I’ve wondered what Satie would think of Cage’s response to his work). Feldman’s “Rothko Chapel” grounds the program and extends the connection to the visual arts, as the work was created for Houston’s Rothko Chapel and reprises a program performed for its 40th anniversary in 2011.  The following stops between Cage and Satie give context around both a shared musical disposition and a historical trajectory of innovative 20th century arts, the relation to the prior century, and the clear affect on music today.


Divers (Drag City)

Joanna Newsom

I’ll jump on the praise wagon. Divers has beautiful lush songs with intriguing instrumentation, a large sound palette, and enjoyable lines drawn through Americana/country and anglo folk, all filtered through Newsom’s idiom. The album’s enjoyable with typical distracted listening, but it took a focused, doing-nothing-else sitting to take the impact of the songs/lyrics and enjoy the depth and direction of the arrangements.


Cory Arcane (Raster-Noton)

Kangding Ray

A lot of strong techno albums come and go, but few stand out from the crowd. Kangding Ray delivers an album of superb sound design, sounds ranging from sensitive and exploratory to pummeling, and a playful approach to rhythm, showing that there are still more places to go with this music beyond lo-fi regressions (which I can appreciate) and wrenches in the gears.


The Conduct of Jazz (Thirsty Ear)

Mathew Shipp

It is good. Shipp has a strong voice.


A Small Prometheus (Emego)

Robin Fox

Weird patterns, rhythmic clipping, minute phasing, tiny sounds, and sometimes large atmospheres. This type of noise-oriented music is rarely this engaging. If I was working on stuff I’d be going for something like this.


Winter Light (ACT)

Scott Dubois feat. Gebhard Ullmann, Thomas Morgan & Kresten Osgood

There have been so many “beautiful” jazz albums lately, but this one stands out. So much atmosphere and interplay, with guitar and bass textures/pads, brushed drums. Despite the percussion it reminds me of Carta da Amor. Really like this.


Mette Henriette (ECM)

Where did this come from? This album pushes across pensive, free, hot, and texture-telescoped sax worlds. Many modes in a striking narrative/program. Really exciting album.

Milo - So the Flies Don't Come

Stronger beats. Sounds great. Maybe I'm responding to the dash of conventionality, but I connect with it more.
More interesting writing, fewer philosophical name-drops and more invitations to conceptual exploration.
My favorite Milo release.


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