Top 5 Albums of 2016, part 3

5.David Bowie – Black Star

After the wound in my heart from the loss of Jareth the Goblin King began to heal, I was able to face Black Star once more, and consider it an artistic masterpiece, rather than a morbid tombstone for my childhood love.

Black Star is riddled with paranoia and a haunting reverberation of chaotic clarinets and heavy drumming.  The looming sense of dread and fear is intensely confronting, with lyrics “Oh, I’ll be free, just like that bluebird, now ain’t that just like me?” establishing a mournful poignancy to Bowie’s swan song.  The title track, ‘Black Star’, is comprised of techno beats juxtaposed with Bowie’s powerful voice, creating a sense of disassociated tumult.

This final LP is a journey which consumes the mind, asserting a sorrowful echo of the Bowie who was known and loved for creating the soundtrack of a generation.  Black Star is, at times, an uncomfortable listening experience, but one which is strangely satisfying in the sense of closure that it evokes.

Best track: Lazarus

4.Goat – Requiem

To be fair, Goat’s work is not for everyone.  Often meddling in ambiance and folk rock with psychedelic vignettes, it’s a group that my friends generally skip when my playlist is on.  I concede that it’s not really easy listening as such, but it certainly is interesting listening.

Goat’s last LP, Commune, left me wondering how they could possibly become any more avant garde without drifting into full-blown obscurity.  Well, Requiem certainly swims in psychedelic obscurity, tethered to hymn-like chants and tribal drumming, dragging the audience alongside the Swedish rockers way down into their trip into desert blues.

Requiem begins with the track, ‘Union of Sun and Moon’, with wood-wind flutes creating, what I think, is an interesting dimension to the otherwise cult-like vocals.  However, I can also see how it might take the listener back to primary school music classes with a bunch of eight year-olds learning the recorder.  The divisive nature of Requiem has lead the album to be openly slammed by many, though stirring a strange desire to continue listening for others, due to the fusion of culture and imagery that it projects.

‘Try my Robe’ induces a hazy compulsion for movement, as the feminine vocals create a droning and hypnotic rhythm. ‘Alarms’ and ‘Goatfuzz’ slip into the classic wah-wah of psych-rock, and drift through wry slides across the guitar, a la The Velvet Underground.

Whilst I do find Requiem potentially the most interesting LP, I would probably not recommend it to those who are unfamiliar with Goat, simply due to the initial absurdity and chaotic noise that it may seem to present through the kaleidoscopic chants.  As such, Requiem is one of my fave albums of the year, largely because it reacquainted me with my love for the group, whose masked faces and beaded outfits ensue an other-worldly sense of disembodiment which is unlike anything else that was released in 2016.

Best Track: Goatfuzz

3. Angel Olsen – My Woman

I’d never really liked Angel Olsen, her previous LPs had always lacked a drive, and felt pretty lacklustre in terms of instrumental prowess.  Maybe this is because my hearing has been permanently affected by dodgy amplifiers, and I am no longer able to appreciate anything that doesn’t screech and scratch away in my mind.  Either way, my prior execration of Olsen has lifted after listening to My Woman.

It’s always incredibly satisfying when an artist is able to balance the lyrical and instrumental components of their product without compromising the integrity of either ingredient.  Olsen does just this, as My Woman fractures the drama of her sultry sounds with ripping electric guitar solos and synthesised nuances.

Olsen evokes an effortless edge in My Woman, as her moody lyrics are juxtaposed captivatingly by her feminine tones.  I imagine that My Woman is something that Nico would’ve had the capacity to produce, had she been a lil’ less depresso, and more inclined to craft something which didn’t induce a crippling apathy.

This album feels as if Olsen has finally asserted her identity as an artist, moving beyond a mere exhibition of her vocal talents, and expanding her grip over the indie-rock dimension.  Whilst tracks ‘Those Were the Days’ and ‘Heart Shaped Face’ are somewhat lacking in their beats, ‘Shut Up Kiss Me’ and ‘Woman’ certainly compensate.

Best Track: Shut Up Kiss Me

2. ORB – Birth

The sounds created by ORB could be described as a dark brew of early Sabbath hooks and progressive rock experimentalism.  But even this fails to capture the captivating intensity of the throbbing beats in ORB’s second LP, Birth.

I first encountered the group during their supporting set for Australian band, The Murlocs, as I was heading outside to mingle among the smoke in order to skip through what is often a tedious wait for the headliners.  From afar, the group didn’t look like much of a typical rock group—their hair was of a conservative length, and one of them was even wearing colour.  Since being drawn in by their gloomy headbanger, ‘Iron Mountain’, on that evening, I have been waiting impatiently for the release of Birth.

The LP is riddled with ferocity and gloominess, whirling the listener into a disturbing yet smooth soundscape.  Zac Olsen is the vocalist, with his close mic’d growls reverberating throughout the wahs and snarls of the bass in tracks such as ‘Reflection’.  ‘Reflection’ displays the slack rock experimentation of drummer Jamie Harmer, who warps the beat and minds of listeners through a variety of tempos, manipulating the peaks and troughs of the song with metallic vigour.

If I had ever doubted the talent and ingenuity of ORB, this ceased after listening to the epic, sixteen-minute long, ‘Electric Blanket’.  The track induces a peculiar equanimity of a disturbed mind, as the wall of sound fluctuates in severity, reaching points of climactic overwhelm.  Around 3:25 into it, Daff Gravolin reverses the tempo for a moment of peace, as Harmer taps away in a jazz-like steadiness.  I probably wouldn’t recommend this track to be played in company, due to the attention and focus it requires, as well as the deep forcefulness that it conjures.

ORB’s Birth is an album that peels off the usually unbearable layers of heavy rock, and replaces them with a captivating papier-mâché of mercurial twangs and head banging riffery.

Best Track: Iron Mountain

  1. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Nonagon Infinity

King Gizzard’s distinct prog-rock hum was asserted in their 2011 EP, Willoughby’s Beach, which introduced the listener into the chaotic landscape of sound that has proven to be a pervasive component of the King Gizzard brand.  Since their debut, Gizzard have churned out eight studio albums, with another three due to be released in 2017.

Gizzard’s eighth release, Nonagon Infinity, submerges the audience in a terrain of haunting dystopia, as the amalgamation of blues harp, heavy bass and reverberating lyrics are combined into an infinitely looping LP.  This ballistic actualisation of Gizzard is a satisfying indicator of their evolution as a group, making a sharp divergence from the album’s jazz infused predecessor, Paper Mache Dream Balloon.

Comprised of eight tracks, the album is characterised by its thematic consistency, bound loosely by a recurring imagery of artificial constructions and the overwhelming presence that they hold over the psyche.  The opening track, ‘Robot Stop’, explores the tension between the body and the technological realm, commenting on the artificial lens through which the body is observed.  ‘Robot Stop’s hook is nuanced throughout the tracks, tying the complex journey of the listener to a recrudesce axis of rhythm.  The album’s peculiarly orderless journey is an accurate representation of the enterprising vitality of the group, who have proven unbound by genre classifications during their rock ascendancy.

Best Track: Because this is an infinitely looping LP, I’m going to have to pick two, simply due to their flawless transition into each other – ‘Invisible Face’ and ‘Wah Wah’.

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