I'll give it to ya straight, my friends...I've been staring down this list for days, not sure where to begin. In a year of exceptional sadness as 2016 was, I don't gravitate towards music. I withdraw from it, not wanting to infuse my greatest pleasure with heavyhearted memories. Despite this and despite everything, the music that makes life so much better rolls on and through, whispering in my weary ear, "We got you, sister. We're not going to let you down. We're here when you are ready." And that is how it is, and how it will always be.
This year was filled with wonderful new releases from artists young and old, fresh or seasoned a f. Here are my 15 favorites.
LIKE THERE WOULDN'T BE SOMETHING FROM TY SEGALL ON THIS LIST
Ty Segall: Emotional Mugger (Drag City)
I am pretty sure Ty has made my list every year since I've been making this end-of-year best, which means three things: 1. He's a perpetually busy guy; 2. He's a endlessly talented guy, and; 3. I have good taste. I think the general music press thinks of young master Ty as mainly a frenetic garage rocker, but that does him a disservice, even though I in particular think there is zero wrong with being a frenetic garage rocker. You can hear it in everything he does, if you listen -- he has strong ideas of what he wants to produce, a vision, even... some fever dream of a Vanilla Fudge record covered in a spilled sticky can of Coke, the record player needle covered in sugary dust, vibrating madly in the grooves. There's a complexity there, from lyrical themes to layers of sound, that deserves your attention.
I can say without doubt the tour behind this record was one of the weirdest shows I've ever seen, and it was brilliant. Damn, if you're not on the Ty train by now, toot toot, get ON already.
Wilco: Schmilco (dBpm Records)
Spencer Tweedy: Geezer Love (self-released)
Speaking of prolific sorts, we have the father-and-son dynamic duo of Jeff and Spencer Tweedy. These guys made my last year's list with their album "Sukierae" under the name of TWEEDY, a rather Captain Obvious choice of band name, but I digress. This year, Father went back to his day job with Wilco and came up with "Schmilco," an aching little sweetheart of a record, Wilco at their warmest. Son went back to college and on his free time, wrote and recorded a 4-song EP, "Geezer Love," released on his 21st birthday, that sounds like a very gifted young man that's been paying very close attention for 21 years on to how to write, perform, and produce quality music, and then just does it as easily as normal college kids effortlessly barf Miller Lite on a foosball table. Kudos, you genetic wonders.
Iggy Pop: Pop Pop Depression (Loma Vista Records)
The Monkees: Good Times! (Rhino Records)
The Rolling Stones: Blue and Lonesome (Interscope)
David Bowie: Blackstar (Columbia Records)
This year, I taught my 11-year-old Newfoundland dog to balance a bone on her nose. Also this year, some of my other favorite olds surprised me with new tricks, or old tricks that were so old as to be new tricks again, or tricks that I won't be able to fathom in ten lifetimes. More power to ye, merry gentlemen.
It's been a great Iggy year: the "Gimme Danger" Stooges documentary, finding out about Iggy's pet bird Biggy Pop on Instagram, the release of "Post Pop Depression," and getting to see the album performed live at Seattle's Paramount Theater. "Post Pop Depression" teams alt-superstars Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age, Matt Helders from Arctic Monkeys, and the Dead Weather's Dean Fertita with the Ig, resulting in a lush, confident, thoughtful pre-MTV Bowie funk. Not punk, but plenty tough. Iggy Pop for President, Every Year.
I'm sure I'm far from the last fan or critic to expect a new album from the three surviving Monkees (Michael Nesmith, Mickey Dolenz, and Peter Tork, RIP Davy Jones) to end up on this kind of list. But "Good Times!" is such a wonderful surprise, varied and so solid throughout, with contributions from songwriters like Andy Partridge of XTC and Ben Gibbard from Death Cab for Cutie. The supporting 50th Anniversary Tour was a similar delight, and had me re-appreciating the Pre-Fab Four, who had the stone-cold balls to become a real band in the face of very determined opposition.
Nor did I AT ALL expect the latest release from the Rolling Stones to wow me. I am a giant Stones fan and have been since my earliest days, but let's be honest: they've been writing the same-sounding material for a verrrrrry long time now, autopilot recording artists. All musicians, should they last so long, face this problem. How does a band remain innovative, fresh, interesting, and cool? For the Stones, the answer in 2016 was in rehearsals for their extensive tours. When they started warming up by playing some of the old blues that was the foundation of the band in 1962, ears perked up and tape started rolling. It is so much FUN to hear the band having FUN with the music they love most of all.
I haven't been able to listen to David Bowie's "Blackstar" more than a few times. Its themes of violence and mortality are so emotionally provocative in light of his death this year that I can only absorb it in small doses and end up crying every time. I am utterly awestruck that he was able to write and complete this complex, difficult work when terminally ill. How? How?? Stronger, better, smarter, braver, and more talented than us all, now and forever.
WHY I LIVE IN SEATTLE
Acapulco Lips: S/T (Killroom Records)
Gazebos: Die Alone (Hardly Art)
Happy Times Sad Times: New Album (Jigsaw Records/Den Tapes)
Steal Shit Do Drugs: S/T (Annibale Records)
Anyone who loves music would live happily in Seattle forever. There is what seems to be an endless supply of amazing new music, great live shows every night of the week, and an artistic community that is generous and supportive. Now we just have to do something about the cripplingly high housing costs and that pesky rain. Nah, scratch that last thought -- the rain might save us from the constant hellfires that will consume our planet soon enough! Cheers! Anyway, here are some of my favorites that just so fortunately happen to be in my Pac NW vicinity.
Something I really appreciate about Acapulco Lips is they appreciate VINTAGE SOUNDS. I am highly fussy about authenticity when it comes to this topic, and this band always gets it so right. Walk right back to 1966 with a little surf style, girl group sweetness, and frug-dancin' garage beat. YEAH!
I fully expect Gazebos to take over the world someday. Until then, we have "Die Alone," which I think just hints at what they can musically accomplish with such talented people on board. They don't sound like anyone else, don't look like anyone else, vocal power for days, and hooks that worm into your brain so bad you might need to see the doctor.
There is just something about Happy Times Sad Times that turns me into a slobbering, head-banging nut, which happens with only select bands like the Gories, whom I revere. If you can turn this battered middle-aged music fan into a 16-year-old pogo princess, you've got POWER. HTST not only rocks out, though -- downtempo songs are just as compelling. This band deserves a lot more attention in Seattle -- get 'em on the bill, Capitol Hill!
Extra-mega-special thank you to the band for featuring my daughter Cameron's art (tiny practice drawings of mouths that I found in her garbage can!) on the cover of "New Album!"
I'm a yuuuuge fan of Steal Shit Do Drugs and was highly damn stoked when their self-titled full-length album arrived on my porch all the way from Italy just a few weeks ago. I'm just as stoked that they will be doing their first European tour in the early part of 2017 and may hide myself in a drum case just to go along. This is the sound of modern punk music. Get it.
DELIGHTFUL ODDBALLS WHOM I LOVE
Jacuzzi Boys: Ping Pong (Mag Mag Records)
Tim Presley: The Wink (Drag City Records)
Puberty: S/T (Born Bad Records)
I played these three albums the most this year, which is not a huge surprise to anyone who keeps track of my favorites, which I believe is only me, but you never know. Each artist raised their personal bar here, and that's exciting for me, and maybe them, and maybe you reading this. I'd be personally very pleased if you purchased these for yourself, not me, because I already own them, and not them because they are busy. Thank you.
My Miami sweethearts Jacuzzi Boys make records that make me smile. I always feel better after listening to them. I think "Ping Pong" is their best album yet, with shining, strong, split-stereo production, tight performances, and great songs throughout. My dream is for them to have their own animated Saturday morning cartoon show. I AM NOT KIDDING.
Tim Presley, like his friend Ty Segall, also makes my list every time he puts out a record because I love every record he makes. Stepping out from the White Fence moniker, plain ol' Mr. Tim on "The Wink" also steps away from his own multi-layered home production and into the studio with producer Cate Le Bon. Le Bon's instincts prove perfect, as we have superb, clean sound and crystal clear vocals, while the arrangements and instrumentation remain familiarly weird and a bit more sparse, to good effect. This is the kind of record that bears repeated listening, for you will hear it differently each time, sonic details popping here and there, lyrics veering from opaque and obscure to stunningly direct.
Why does Presley sing with a muted British accent? The world may never know.
If you think Puberty sounds a lot, I mean A LOT, like my favorite post-punk performers, The Intelligence, OH GUESS WHAT? That's because Puberty is a Lars Finberg project, and the band is loaded with current and former members of The Intelligence! Aren't you glad to know this? It pains my little heart that more people haven't heard this record, because it is fantastic. Born out of "Trainwreck," a crazy monthly performance event at The Orient Express karaoke in Seattle, it took years to reunite the Puberty band to make this album, and another year before it was released. Finberg doubles his vocal lines with Susanna Welbourne (better-known internationally as burlesque star Kitten LaRue), wrote all the songs, but sits out on playing. Oh, but these songs are SO LARS. Grim, funny, spooky, strange, and charming, it may not be for everybody, but I will never stop insisting that it SHOULD BE. Make 2017 Semi-Tolerable Again and buy this album.
I made this video a couple nights ago and am proud of several edit points. Check out the wicked guitar work on this by Dave Hernandez!
THE FUTURE IS FEMALE
Tacocat: Lost Time (Hardly Art)
It's a genuine thrill to see Tacocat gain popularity this year with the excellent "Lost Time," although that means more time on the road away from Seattle. We miss them when they are gone, because the three women and one man who make up Tacocat bring so much to our town. They are musicians, artists, DJs, writers, hosts of fun creative events, and light up the town with ever-changing hair and clothes and makeup. Most importantly, they are advocates for those who are in need -- our homeless population, PoC, the LGTBQ community, reproductive rights organizations, and more.
You can hear this advocacy on "Lost Time" but it never comes across as preachy or trite. Instead, there is a sly humor and head-bopping pop punk that delivers messages with hilarious accuracy and an awful lot of fun.
Because this was exactly what was needed in 2016, and brought me smiles and strength, "Lost Time" is my album of the year.