The following are albums released in 2016 that I found myself listening to a lot, that I have not reviewed previously and that did not get the attention they so deserved. In no particular order…
Mild High Club’s “Skiptracing”
You will be hard-pressed to find a more relaxing album for contemplation from this past year. “Skiptracing” for me was one of those gems that I heard about by chance—and probably would not have heard about at all had my friend not told me about it—and I latched onto it to instantly. I have listened to it straight through probably over 20 times since early December or so, and I am hooked every time in the same way as my first listen. At first it was primarily the dreamy quality present throughout the duration, but then the lyrics jumped out. The album is acutely self-aware, constantly referring to the music within. This happens most notably with the track “Homage,” in which frontman Alexander Brettin borrows the chords from jazz standard, “Autumn Leaves”, and refers directly to them in the lyrics. The consciousness seeps to topics other than music as well, with Brettin’s grounded mindfulness playing a primary role in the album.
Yoni & Geti’s “Testarossa”
The latest collaboration between alternative hip hop and rock musicians Yoni Wolf and Serengeti is a conceptual, eclectic, depressing portrait of a couple drifting apart. They previously worked together on half of Serengeti’s “Family & Friends” where each narrative was encapsulated in individual songs, but with this release they prove they can create a more involved tale throughout an album. Not only is the work cohesive with recurring themes, but it is also not as straightforward as Serengeti’s other narrative-based songs, requiring deeper understanding and listens to appreciate it. The character development spans the album—similar to Serengeti’s Kenny Dennis releases—but is not always immediately obvious and is harder to fit together, as it smears from the protagonist’s more introspective and somber side, sung by Yoni. This album is a wonderful introduction to either Yoni or Geti’s solo discography, but you will be wishing they collaborated more. Geti’s dark, melancholic rapping pairs perfectly with Yoni’s catchy, soft-rock vocals. The two have a chemistry well-suited for storytelling that was already apparent on “Family & Friends,” but is brought even more to the forefront here.
Jeff Parker’s “The New Breed”
Parker is known for his work blending and bending genres, most notably in his post-rock group Tortoise, but it is here he really shines as not only a guitarist and composer, but a producer and conceptual artist as well. The album is an honest tribute to his father—the title comes from a clothing store he owned—and a wide range of hip hop and jazz, but never once does it come off like Parker is trying to jam all of this information in it. From beginning to end, it is a chill set of soundscapes tied together by Parker’s love and respect for the past that also looks forward.
Guerilla Toss’ “Eraser Stargazer”
Undoubtedly the most out-there and abrasive of these four, it is also the hardest grooving. The percussion draws on disco and the like, but the rest of the band is nowhere near. Guitars and electronics stab at the danceable texture, pervading it with berserk dissonance. But it is Kassie Carlson’s voice that ties it all together. With a Sprechstimme-esque approach, Carlson shrieks and swoops, matching the intensity the instrumentals provide. “Eraser Stargazer” is not an album for casual listening and takes a lot to sink your teeth into. This album and their previous EP, “Flood Dosed”—my introduction to them—is some of the best recent rock I have heard. Original and wild, it is impossible to not be at least intrigued.