2016 sucked in a lot of ways for a lot of people. Not the smallest of ways was the closure of Other Music, and a good handful of New York’s most beloved music venues, including the sudden death of Palisades.
In the darkest times, though, the brightest of lights shine through. Here are ten glimmers of hope, to send off a dark year.
10. The Men, Devil Music
Friends, the time for dicking around has come to a close. The time for being frank is upon us. For Devil Music, Brooklyn’s The Men cast aside the alt-country leanings of 2014’s Tomorrow’s Hits, reaching instead for heavy, hirsute, gut-punching goddamn rock and roll. The one rock record your metalhead friend, the guy who drives a Camaro and hangs out at the high school, can get down with. God damn.
9. Pill, Convenience
I wrote about Pill twice, in 2016, here and here. Their debut album is great. Seeing them live is better. Pill sound like a No Wave band. No Wave bands were notorious for falling apart too young. Go see Pill while you still can.
8. Thee Oh Sees, A Weird Exits/An Odd Entrances
For proof that Thee Oh Sees are slowly evolving into a classic rock band, look no further than the riffage on “Dead Man’s Gun,” the opening number off A Weird Exits. In place of a chorus is a riff that sounds suspiciously close to the opening lick of Lenny Kravitz’s “Are You Gonna Go My Way?” The first recorded document of Thee Oh Sees new two-drummer lineup has proven fruitful, too, as AWE’s release in August was followed closely by An Odd Entrances in December, a sort of companion album that stretches what already rambles and makes the California garage rock revival’s first honest to gosh concept album.
7. Parquet Courts, Human Performance
I got the feeling that Monastic Living, Parquet Court’s noisy, mostly instrumental Rough Trade debut was a kind of palette cleanser. That they’d shake their ya-yas out, and come back with the poppiest record of their career. This year’s Human Performance was exactly that. Parquet Courts have always been the tightest and sharpest local band in the city, that’s a known fact. That little bit of spit and polish, though, really puts them over the lip, and into the next atmospheric level. From the one chord opener, “Dust,” Parquet Courts are no longer a local band. Their whip-smart arrangements and deadpan delivery are something that belongs to the world, now. Parquet Courts are for everyone. Rejoice.
6. Modern Baseball, Holy Ghost
Modern emo non-apologists Modern Baseball are back at it, again, with another twenty-seven minutes of peppy pop punk that calls to mind Nothing Feels Good-era Promise Ring. Lyrically, dude is less concerned with Instagram feeds than just hoping the girlfriend’ll still be around when they get home from tour. Musically, things haven’t changed too much, but the great part about the emo revival is that the new bands lean heavily on energetic music and lyrical emotionalism, without getting too concerned with Saying Something, in capital letters.
5. Kevin Drumm, The Back Room
This reissue of a small run CD-r from 2012 plays like an LP. Three rhythm-less, high-pitched tracks are followed by two long-form pieces that bounce chaotically back and forth between ambient and punishing. The best noise music calls to mind the handicap radios described in Kurt Vonnegut’s Harrison Bergeron. The best noise music clears the mind of all outer distractions, reduces the listener to primal stupidity. Kevin Drumm’s is the best noise music.
4. Ceschi/Pat the Bunny, Split LP
Ceschi is a masterful rapper, wizard on acoustic guitar, absolute workhorse and incredibly decent, humble and cool dude. His Broken Bone Ballads is still on my playlist. Folk punk idol Pat the Bunny documented his struggle with addiction under the names Johnny Hobo and the Freight Trains and Wingnut Dishwasher’s Union, and his later struggle with recovery and humanity as front person of Ramshackle Glory, and as a solo artist. On paper, the two couldn’t be more mismatched. In practice, though, the dividends are amazing. Ceschi’s side plays like an acoustic addendum to Broken Bone Ballads, and Pat’s side plays like a slightly-more produced take on his last (and best) album, Probably Nothing, Possibly Everything. Pat announced his retirement from music in January, and Ceschi is just starting to get the attention he deserves. This LP is neither artist’s best work, but it displays a camaraderie that comes only from the friendships that evolve out of touring together. That road, baby. We out here, for DAYS.
3. Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Skeleton Tree
Skeleton Tree, Nick Cave’s first album since the death of his son, last year, is a haunting return to the Let Love In era, minus any attempts at a single, focused only on the contemplative. I don’t think there’s a single guitar on this record. It is gorgeous and dark and complex, and I hope Cave finds the peace he’s looking for.
2. A Giant Dog, Pile
Texan quintet A Giant Dog don’t do anything that hasn’t been done, before. Their brand of ballsy bar rock treads the most familiar of territory: tight arrangements, overdriven bass, shit hot lead singer. Songs about sex, drugs, the road. Being a creep. But straight up ROCK AND ROLL hasn’t been done this well in what feels like decades. It’s meat and potatoes rock, for sure. But, in such an exhausting year, meat and potatoes is the best one can hope for.
1. The Ergs!, Goddamn Death Dedication
Ergs! drummer/singer Mikey Erg finally got off his hemorrhoid donut this year and released his very first solo LP, Tentative Decisions. It’s very good, the sound of a career musician who’s grown exponentially as an artist since the Ergs! disbanded in 2008. But this new, final Ergs! 7” is my favorite record of the year. Four songs over and done in eight minutes, it’s everything one would expect from an Ergs! Record. Three new songs, one written by each member, one lead vocal from guitarist Jeff Schroek, and an out-of-nowhere cover. “No Sharona” smashes The Knack’s hit through the No Wave filter, all crazy skronk and honking saxophone. It’d be a just another clever joke, in the hands of a lesser band. But the Ergs! take kidding around so fucking seriously that “No Sharona” transcends comedy, and creates a new piece of high art. It may be their last record but, even if it is, what a note to end on.