2016 Music Reviews
Alabama Shakes, Sound & Color (2015) B
This is the kind of clean, smooth playing record that'll win you a Grammy, apparently. It doesn't take a whole lot of chances (just some well-made blues-inspired tracks), but it does have a voice like Ms. Howard's, which helps tremendously. The last two songs ("Gemini" and "Over My Head") are arguably the weakest on the entire record.
American Football, American Football (2016) D
It's okay to be a little mopey but I draw the line at outright whining; consistency is fine but this entire record is the epitome of matchy-matchy. I bet these guys get choked up watching The Bachelor.
Animal Collective, Painting With (2016) C-
Not as intolerable as "Centipede Hz" ... but they're still doing the same layering/looping thing where the songs run in a circle - chopped-up/glitched lyrics get loaded on top of each other - and then end at some arbitrary point. I've said before that I think bands only have a certain number of quality albums in them before they lose the musical magic: they peaked with "Strawberry Jam" and "Merriweather Post Pavilion" ... and now they're sampling The Golden Girls on what could be the best song on the record ("Golden Gal").
Anohni, Hopelessness (2016) C
Opening track "Drone Bomb Me" is unsettling and melodramatic - her declaration to "choose me tonight," in this case, is not a sexual invitation, but a sarcastic call-to-be-terminated - and a powerful statement the rest of the album (largely produced by Mr. Lopatin) fails to capitalize on. Everything that follows "Execution," politically aware as it is, hits the same note.
Aphex Twin, Cheetah EP (2016) B-
"Remember when Throbbing Gristle named their album '20 Jazz Funk Greats' ... well here are six actual jazz funk bits I pulled out of my arse. Have fun lads. -RDJ"
The Avalanches, Wildflower (2016) A-
So these Aussies finally woke up from their fifteen year weed coma and realized they had to get back to work. The wait was, if entirely too long, sort of worth it: this is a gorgeous summer album that transitions meticulously from track to track (and this time: real contributors!). Lead "single" "Frankie Sinatra" is a little too carnival-esque to really fit in, but after that it's a nostalgic breeze straight to its strong conclusion (aided by Jennifer Herrema and Warren Ellis on "Stepkids" and Father John Misty on "Saturday Night Inside Out").
Julianna Barwick, Will (2016) B-
Barwick was described to me as "an even more minimalist Grouper," which is a valid description - it's quiet and solemn, and most of the time avoids wafting into 'new age' territory (which is rarely a good place). "Same" and "Heading Home" are gorgeous pieces, but make sure to turn it off before "See, Know."
James Blake, The Colour in Anything (2016) D+
It's good to be confident, but what ever made Mr. Blake think he needed seventeen tracks for his third LP? He was never the most creative producer, so he really needed someone to step in and edit him down and remove the pieces that just linger ("I Hope My Life," "Two Men Down," "Modern Soul," etc.). Mr. Iver makes a nice appearance on "I Need a Forest Fire." I'll always maintain Blake's better at DJing....
Blood Orange, Freetown Sound (2016) D
Not only am I not a big fan of his draggy delivery, the mixture of love songs and politically-minded samples doesn't mesh at all and the (mostly female) collaborators can only do so much with Hynes' questionable production (though Empress Of stands out on "Best to You"). Is that supposed to be a Leonard Cohen impersonation on "E.V.P." and the beginning of "Augustine?" Don't do that.
Bon Iver, 22, A Million (2016) D+
What happened to Mr. Iver? Apparently he got so bored playing folk songs (which he was good at) he decided to pretend to be an experimental artist, abusing Auto-Tune and trying to 'deconstruct' his material ("____45_____"), just throwing out random notes and mumbling nonsense (and what's with the symbols?). To anyone that calls this his "Kid A" moment: have you heard "Kid A" in a while? This is a cold mess.
Boris & Merzbow, Gensho (2016) D
Two-disc 'collaborative' release by two monsters of noise: they're supposed to be played simultaneously (Boris' part is on album one, Merzbow is on album two), but to keep each part from drowning out the other you have to keep fiddling with volume levels ... which takes more effort than either Boris or Merzbow put forth in composing any of this. Merz blasts his usual static while Boris want to emulate Sunn O))) (as few chords as possible!).
David Bowie, Blackstar (2016) B
The Thin White Duke's goodbye letter to Planet Earth was recorded while he was dying of cancer: it's at once intimate ... and still unabashedly experimental. Mr. Bowie claimed Death Grips were an influence on this one, but sorry, I keep hearing Radiohead. The title track and "Lazarus" are strong moments, and there's something pleasantly snarky about "'Tis a Pity She Was a Whore" (... it's always a shame, really). So long, Space Cowboy, and thanks for the visit.
Danny Brown, Atrocity Exhibition (2016) B-
Mr. Brown? On Warp Records? Naming his record after a Joy Division song? Sure, why not. It took a few spins to wrap my head around this one but I feel, in the end, it's a successful union: Brown's so unorthodox why shouldn't he dip a little into the electronica pool? Some of his vocal embellishments could have been toned down ("Downward Spiral") and a few tracks fail to make much of an impression (you like weed? no way), but it's a notable release nonetheless.
The Caretaker, Everywhere at the End of Time (Stage 1) (2016) B+
Mr. Kirby takes what seems like classic ballroom music, adds layers of pops and clicks over them and then tinkers with their patterns ... it makes the past sound all the more distant ... and at once nostalgic and a little frightening. Completely hypnotic, and I had to check it wasn't commissioned for a Guy Maddin project.
Car Seat Headrest, Teens of Denial (2016) C+
Going from Bandcamp to the esteemed Matador Records is quite the leap ... except having heard almost all of Mr. Toledo's early records ("Twin Fantasy" is his best), this is a let-down, failing to capture the spirit and improvisational nature of previous releases ... and he permits some songs to expand in length to nigh-uncontrollable levels ("a man's got to know his limitations"). He still sounds like a drowsier Julian Casablancas (this is a compliment) and can rock out when he needs to ("Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales," "Cosmic Hero").
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Skeleton Tree (2016) C-
I don't mean to come across as heretical ... but I sort-of prefer it when Cave doesn't do free verse for an entire record. The wobbly, whining "I Need You" is a definite low moment.
Chance the Rapper, Coloring Book (2016) B-
I made a rule for myself not to write little reviews of "mixtapes" ... but you know what? I don't think this is a mixtape: it's got too many top collaborators (Kanye! Lil Wayne! Young Thug! ... Bieber?) and the production is superb. Chance's optimism about the future and reflections on his faith are at the forefront ... except a good deal of the drive that it starts with peters out after "Same Drugs." It concludes on a high note: everyone should be ready for a miracle.
Childish Gambino, "Awaken, My Love!" (2016) F
Someone needs to take "multi-talented" Mr. Glover aside - on Wikipedia he's listed as an "actor, writer, producer, director, comedian, rapper, singer, and songwriter" - and carefully tell him he's not particularly good at any of the things he keeps making and he needs to start focusing his career a lot more on one or maybe two artistic areas. On this release, he's trying for soul/funk, and it's unlistenable (and bordering on insulting): what's with the vocals on "California?" What's with the lyrics on "Zombies?" Does he actually think he's innovative?
Clams Casino, 32 Levels (2016) C-
A bit of a slip for Mr. Casino, whose "Rainforest" EP years back was one of the most invigorating things I'd heard in a while - there are still some smooth pieces he puts together ("Level 1," "Back to You") but the rest are barely passable. I'm glad he left the instrumentals on here - his textured production is nuanced enough to demand full attention without the need for collaborators.
Clipping, Splendor and Misery (2016) D
They intended this to be a concept album about an astronaut ... but it's more or less an exercise in "how fast can we say words" instead of tying together the 'music' (dissonant effects, buzzing) and (barely fleshed out) subject matter.
Leonard Cohen, You Want It Darker (2016) B+
Dylan may have (justifiably, in my opinion) won the Nobel Prize in Literature, but Cohen was his peer - in this final release, he's mixing up lust (for another person) with a desire for spiritual enlightenment ... and it's an unholy mixture of longing and confusion (as with Bowie, he wrote this knowing he didn't have much longer to live). I listened to it twice to determine a rating ("It Seemed the Better Way" could be performed in a place of worship) and I'm putting it on stand-by for when I'm at a low point ("Only one of us was real, and that was me" ... ouch). Good night you troubled Bard. Eternity thanks you.
J. Cole, 4 Your Eyez Only (2016) B+
Cole got a lot of flack for this one for completely idiotic reasons: sure there are no features (it's all him), he doesn't talk non-stop about using women, running from the law, abandoning children and chopping dope. How dull, right? No, he's speaking from the heart - he's seen the worst and wants the best for himself and his family. The rap community always talks about "keeping it real" ... that's what he's trying to do.
Crystal Castles, Amnesty (I) (2016) C-
Well, at the very least this post-Alice CC release proves two things: (1.) Ms. Glass was easily replaceable (here, Edith Frances is in charge of the periodic yelping) and (2.) Ethan has little left in his repertoire but some glitched-out Eurodance junk ... and he even mucks up Beach House ("Kept").
Death Grips, Bottomless Pit (2016) B+
As gutteral and caustic as ever ... and even self-critical: on "Trash" the Grips bros admit "We upload trash" (actually not true, but the self-loathing is evident). Playing Angry Young Men can provide artistic value (if done right), and the title track - which concludes the record - is brash, furious rage: proceed with caution, as always. "Giving Bad People Good Ideas" is unfortunately my life mantra.
Deftones, Gore (2016) D-
It's kinda neat that they've been able to keep the band together all these years - defying the laws that govern bands - but as much as I hate to say it, they were never as notable as their (much-maligned) peers: say what you will about Korn or Limp Bizkit, but the former could not be matched in terms of hostility and Durst and the boys knew how to do fun. Homogenized from beginning to end, it's the musical equivalent to gruel.
DIIV, Is the Is Are (2016) C+
Psssst! Hey! Kid! Want some hooks? We got lots of hooks here! It's just too bad the hooks are laced with baking soda and have little effect after being played into the ground. One exception: the wonderfully structured "Healthy Moon," arguably the finest track the band's completed to date (just make sure to not read the lyrics sheet).
The Dillinger Escape Plan, Dissociation (2016) D+
This is allegedly the last LP by the band who want "to go out on top" ... except to have gone out on top they would have had to disband six years ago. Most of this is either a rehash of old ideas or undeniably bad new ideas (what is with the IDM-ish "Fugue"?) but opener "Limerent Death" is notable for its intensity (Puciato holds back nothing on it).
Drake, Views (2016) C-
You'd think with the number of assistants and producers someone of Drake's clout can summon this would have some kind of pulse to it ... but still, roughly 42 million dollars later, he's still playing the self-pitying sadsack. I guess some mistake this posturing as "soulful" and "honest" ... but in all actuality it's fraudulent and stale.
The Drones, Feelin Kinda Free (2016) D+
Liddiard babbles out his banal diary entries while his band remains in holding pattern, keeping beat for him to keep yammering (when they aren't permitted to make screeching noises). This band's name is all-too-accurate.
Explosions in the Sky, The Wilderness (2016) B
While it always sounds like they're building to some big moment they can't get to - unlike GY!BE, who take it to the bitter end - the individual moments contain elegance and control: ponderous without being stultifying.
The Field, The Follower (2016) C-
Mr. Willner's until-now positive oeuvre has been marred a bit by this sub-standard release - "Soft Streams" is its sole entrancing moment (it's a little Burial-ish), but "Raise the Dead" and "Reflecting Lights" do the usual looping thing ... without becoming transportive.
Fire! Orchestra, Ritual (2016) D
Harpies chant and holler over a drunken ensemble - around part three, they drop the instruments and just start inserting random beeps and fuzz. They're still not Masada (or Naked City).
Flume, Skin (2016) D
The grotesquely over-the-hills production by Streten shows he can't comprehend subtlety ... with one exception: miraculously, he crafts as entrancing as club tune as I've heard since Disclosure's "Latch" with the passive-aggressive "Never Be Like You" (Kai's voice compliments the throbbing keyboards harmoniously). One out of sixteen is not a good batting average, mate.
Future, EVOL (2016) D
A bargain-basement-level lyricist ("Xanny Family" makes me laugh, "Program" is trash) gets a huge boost in recognition by collaborating with Drake; it's only fitting for him to team up with another below-average talent in The Weeknd for "Low Life" ("wifey wifey wifey" etc.).
Green Day, Revolution Radio (2016) D
If you'd have told me back in 1994 these guys would still be going twenty two years later I would not have believed you, but here they are, having made the most out of what talent they could muster (I still can't stand Armstrong's voice). There isn't much notable on this one: stuff like "Youngblood" and "Troubled Times" just sound like mild tweaks on past releases. Let's just shrug together and agree sometimes ambition and luck trumps all else.
Tim Hecker, Love Streams (2016) C
Hecker has an interest in unique sound formations, but he's rarely able to string them together into anything other than fractured loops that shimmer all-too briefly. I thought he was starting to build something special with both "Violet Monumental" tracks mid-disc ... and then he abandons that.
Hinds, Leave Me Alone (2016) C+
So maybe they're not all that proficient at singing ("Fat Calmed Kiddos" should hurt your ears) ... or playing their instruments ... or songwriting ("I'll Be Your Man" ... ouch), but why can't four gals from Spain sound like they belong on K Records? The very non-professional music video they made for "Chili Town" has them smoking cigarettes, eating chips, picking their noses and drinking wine: what else is there to do on a Sunday?
The Hotelier, Goodness (2016) D+
A poor, poor man's Mountain Goats ... plus some unpleasant theatrics, a dumb poem to start and an edgy cover featuring geriatric nudists. "Soft Animal" is fine, I suppose....
Iggy Pop, Post Pop Depression (2016) C+
Nine-song LP from Iggy, which some are saying will be his last record (it was reportedly inspired by the passing of one of his friends, Mr. Bowie). The problem I have with it comes from Josh Homme, who produced it: I think Homme is an interesting guy and very charismatic, but all his music is always safe and unoriginal - even the few flourishes he allows Iggy on this one (that concluding rant on "Paraguay") don't make it ... well, any more than just ordinary. Iggy is anything but ordinary.
The I.L.Y.'s, Scum With Boundaries (2016) C
The boys didn't put a whole lot of thought into making this one - "I want to marry you / I want to scare-y you" (?) - and most of the bite from last year's release is missing, but I'm figuring that's because their Death Grips project is just ... so ... draining.
Junior Boys, Big Black Coat (2016) C-
Not much has changed in their (often wonky) instrumentals since the last time I saw them live (in Philadelphia) ... and they'll never be nominated for the Giller Prize, that's for sure. The wistful vibe of "And It's Forever" gets dashed by "Baby Don't Hurt Me" immediately thereafter.
Justice, Woman (2016) D-
It's now become clear with time that the best thing they had in them was "D.A.N.C.E." forever ago - this is one dragged out spiral into mediocrity (the falsetto on "Pleasure" and "Randy" is cringe-worthy). "Use imagination as a destination" they implore: maybe they should have taken their own recommendation more seriously.
Kid Cudi, Speedin' Bullet 2 Heaven (2015) C
Ooooh boy, what an absolute (intentional?) disaster. I guess Cudi was trying to be "experimental" with this non-rap release, but there are so many questionable things going on: his singing leaves a lot to be desired, the guitarwork is sloppy, there are interludes with Beavis and Butthead (voiced by Mike Judge) and the lyrics sound like someone enduring a psychotic episode. Whether it's an elaborate joke or an emulation of outsider art or the creation of someone who needs medical assistance, it's tough to tell ... but it's so bizarre it's probably destined for cult status.
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard, Nonagon Infinity (2016) C-
Seems like they had a fun time recording it, except the end product lacks imagination ("People-Vultures" is simply grating). Psych rock is a flooded field and they do little to 'stand out.'
Kings of Leon, Walls (2016) D-
Am I the only one sick of their 'good ol' Southern boys with some heart and soul' put-on schtick? At least with earlier records - okay, mostly "Aha Shake Heartbreak" - they had a sense of humor, now they're pressing to be "serious artists."
The Last Shadow Puppets, Everything You've Come to Expect (2016) C
Mr. Pallett's elegant strings are a major asset ... it's a shame that it's tough to listen to them when Alex Turner's embellishing what he considers indelible wit ("Ghost Riders and The Rat and Parrot / Croc-skin collar on a Diamond Dog"). The title track is one moment where almost everything is in balance - the accompanying music video, with Turner and Miles Kane buried neck deep in sand, has a certain nostalgic quality to it.
Local Natives, Sunlit Youth (2016) B+
Just a steady stream of elegantly done indie rock tunes, with the synth-y "Villainy" setting the tone right at the outset. The second half of the album, kicking off with the standout "Coins," pushes it to a refreshingly earnest conclusion ("Sea of Years") thereby warranting the album's (cautiously optimistic) title.
Lucius, Good Grief (2016) B
Surprisingly solid pop album that came out of nowhere (for me, at least): I thought little of it after first listen, but later revisits reveal an introspective release with only a few missteps ("Dusty Trails," the tacky "Something About You"). The wailing on "Gone Insane" is at first off-putting, but sometimes you just gotta let it out, ya know?
M.I.A., AIM (2016) C-
In a way, I feel bad for M.I.A.: she was so over-hyped and over-sold and marketed as this great political voice that there was no way she could ever live up to those expectations. She remains the same low effort lyricist ("Fly Pirate," "Talk") and the songs are a jumble (most with some jarring and distracting effects).
Miike Snow, iii (2016) D+
They have a track record of producing for other artists (Britney, Katy, Sky) but can't make a lasting album of their own (judging by "Genghis Khan," they also aren't sure how humor is supposed to work). I get the impression they need a big personality to go along with their knob twiddling - the best part of this is a (very limited) contribution by Charli XCX.
Mono, Requiem for Hell (2016) C-
Sorry, but the GYBE! are better at the whole build-up & release post-rock aesthetic ("Death in Rebirth," the opener, tries hard but then fizzles out like a cheaply made firecracker).
Nothing, Tired of Tomorrow (2016) D
They keep getting lumped in with the shoegazers but they're the opposite of dreamy and hypnotic - this is just as numb as their previous record. I swear they're borrowing their melodies from Creed ("Curse of the Sun").
Conor Oberst, Ruminations (2016) B-
Normally this level of self-pity would cause me to roll my eyes, but Oberst's actually been through a lot in his (still young) career (medical issues, false accusations), so I can't fault him for snuggling a but too close to Dylan (and getting a bit cutesy with the wordplay).
Frank Ocean, Endless (2016) D
Frank Ocean, Blonde (2016) C
People have been hammering on him for a while now to release a new album ... and so he finally came out with two, and neither of them is especially good. "Endless" is a choppy, poorly thought-out "visual album" and it's clear he's playing around with his own sound ... except there's no flow, and you should never put out your undeveloped ideas (it also strikes me as being a glorified Apple ad). "Blonde," his "non-visual" release, is only marginally better: it's not quite as clipped as "Endless" and showcases Ocean's vocal talents, though it lacks in memorable moments ("Solo" is my favorite) and has too many questionable aesthetic issues (what is with the vocal manipulation on "Nikes" and "Self-Control"? what is going on in "Pretty Sweet"? did he really need to include "Facebook Story"?).
Okkervil River, Away (2016) C-
Opener "Okkervil River R.I.P." is so unexpectedly stunning - with its nod-and-wink to Dylan, name-dropping and feigned air of defeat - that it virtually ends the record right at the start. What follows is not nearly as shaded and complex, just Mr. Sheff hitting the same note (relatively speaking): it's fetishized melancholy.
Angel Olsen, My Woman (2016) C
Her delivery can be a bit whiney ("Heart Shaped Face") and some of the later tracks tend to drag on ("Woman," "Pops") ... but she can play a mean guitar ("Sister"), which she doesn't break out often.
Parquet Courts, Human Performance (2016) B
You know what? This super-hyped, somewhat dweebish outfit from Brooklyn (of course) is starting to grow on me: now, I'm not saying early concerns with the band's approach are completely eradicated - it's best to skip past the interminable "One Man No City" - but they have the whole punk/garage thing down pat ... even when aping Joe Strummer. It concludes on a strong note with the unexpectedly pensive "It's Gonna Happen."
Peter Bjorn and John, Breakin' Point (2016) B
So many years in and they're still so ... joyful (must be those Stockholm ladies ... or the Svedka) ... and have so many hooks. In an age of pessimism, they're channeling the mid-1980's - it not only works, it almost sounds effortless.
Pinkshinyultrablast, Grandfeathered (2016) C-
Little Russian lady chirps (gratingly, unintelligibly) over a mountain of guitar noise ... except the 'songs' lack distinction from each other. I get it, they want to be loud and they want to be My Bloody Valentine. Not yet....
Porches, Pool (2016) F
Some guy who can't sing uses his Casio to make the soundtrack for an 80's movie no one wants to watch. Distract him and format his hard drive.
Preoccupations, Preoccupations (2016) C
The opening three tracks build up to the album's (astonishing) centerpiece, "Memory," and then the rest are just a bunch of short-ish, unpolished 'songs' ("Forbidden" just ... sorta ... fades out). I suspect they threw it together in a hurry in order to just release something with their new band name and go out on tour hassle free (they previously went by "Viet Cong" which was met with understandable controversy).
Radiohead, A Moon Shaped Pool (2016) B+
The frantic strings and political lyrics of "Burn the Witch" don't hide the fact that this is, essentially, a crushing break-up album, as Mr. Yorke recently got divorced from his spouse of over twenty years (that it ends on a new rendition of "True Love Waits" is certainly significant ... and pessimistic). Probably their most "personal" album since ... "The Bends," perhaps? Now that's a band coming full circle ... and learning new things along the way.
Jeff Rosenstock, Worry. (2016) C
Rock-and-roll bombast is fine - Rosenstock is a little ball of energy - but maybe a little more time needed to be spent on the material? Unless it was meant as a throwaway, in which case: heard it, that's fine, moving on.
Santigold, 99 Cents (2016) B-
Hopefully enough people give this easy-listening and very fun record by Philly's own Ms. Santi White a couple spins: she's certainly good at assembling a fine team of producers to lend assistance (Patrik Berger, Rostam, Dave Sitek). It has its missteps - the muffled vocals on "Walking in a Circle," iLoveMakonnen's contribution to "Who Be Lovin Me," so-so throwback "Who I Thought You Were" - but makes it through regardless.
Savages, Adore Life (2016) C-
Begins in a rush with the excellent "The Answer" before, for the rest of the album, slowing down considerably with spoken word segments and uninspired lyrics ("Sad Person" should have been re-written a few more times). They still have a way to go before they can be properly compared to those that influenced them (Sleater-Kinney, Le Tigre, etc.).
Schoolboy Q, Blank Face LP (2016) C
Mr. Q. likes the following: gangbanging, dope, guns, the n-word. Mr. Q. is not fond of the police. Mr. Q. will probably let you have sex with his girl. If "Overtime" (with good ol' Miguel) is anyone's idea of a romantic song, we're in sad times.
School of Seven Bells, SVIIB (2016) C-
Innocuous electro-pop that doesn't take enough chances or really try to set itself apart from the still-ongoing trend of records like this coming out. The early thrill of club-ready "On My Heart" is lost by the time it gets to "Signals."
Travis Scott, Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight (2016) C-
Scott's extremely mediocre without his dozens of collaborators, who are responsible for the album's most notable moments (there's The Weeknd again on "Wonderful"!) - otherwise, it's the same tired drinking/screwing/drugs slant that permeates the genre. Auto-tune should be banned.
Ty Segall, Emotional Mugger (2016) D-
There's something to admire about Segall's non-stop release of new material, I guess ... but he's also so sloppy and irritating I would be surprised if he even does second takes, listens to the material he recorded or thinks about spending more time working on his tracks. I'm betting I spend more time revising a 200-word movie capsule than he does on a single song.
Sleigh Bells, Jessica Rabbit (2016) D+
They haven't worked too hard on developing their sound over the past decade - it's still Krauss spacing her words out over Miller's blaring guitar - and they certainly don't think much about what they're saying ("Pop rocks and coke!"). "Torn Clean" sounds like a step in a more shoegaze-y direction, but it's only a minute-and-a-half segment ... basically a throwaway piece.
Regina Spektor, Remember Us to Life (2016) C-
Precocious and preening - I get the impression Ms. Spektor is so used to be congratulated for whatever she puts out there she's had no time (or interest) in examining her own aesthetic. Consistency is an issue, and the word play is too cutesy.
Sunflower Bean, Human Ceremony (2016) C
Cranked out of the Dream Pop Factory - pixie female lead, wistful guitar - although they could be one of those bands to evolve their sound to something wholely unique: there's potential, so I'll be keeping track of their progress.
Swans, The Glowing Man (2016) B-
While I realize Gira has a fondness for extended track lengths - like other experimental rockers (GY!BE) - some parts of this just seem needlessly rambling (the title song, "Frankie M"). Still, "Cloud of Forgetting" and "Cloud of Unknowing," its opening two bits, are at once wistful and ferocious: they know how to rev up those damn guitars.
Tegan and Sara, Love You to Death (2016) B
Who would have thought everyone's favorite lesbian twin singers were going to be inspired by fellow Canadian Carly Rae Jepsen? They do it better than Carly too: they're more personal ("Boyfriend") and consistently catchy ("U-turn," "Hang On to the Night").
Thee Oh Sees, A Weird Exits (2016) C-
Minimal effort in this sometimes speedy ("Ticklish Warrior"), sometimes draggy ("The Axis"), always messy psych rock record ... but at least it's easier to absorb than last year's LP. It's also better when there's less 'singing' ... just sayin', gang.
Tortoise, The Catastrophist (2016) C
While there's no denying the talent of Mr. McEntire and company - they've been doing this for decades - they release so few albums one can't help but wonder why this one feels so ... unfocused (and straightforward, considering the band's eclectic history). It has its bright spots - the dreary cover of "Rock On" (with ... vocals!?) not being one of them - and at least they keep the awful cover art streak going.
A Tribe Called Quest, We Got It From Here... Thank You 4 Your Service (2016) B
Neat as a throwback to 90's hip-hop - glad to hear from these guys again! - though at two albums long, it's a bit indulgent. The flow's still there ... it's like riding a bike, right?
Underworld, Barbara Barbara, We Face a Shining Future (2016) C
First three parts are traditional Underworld-type material (Hyde chanting gibberish over Rick Smith's robotic production) but then ... it goes guitar instrumental ("Santiago Cuatro"), ballad ("Motorhome") and two passable closing bits.
Weezer, Weezer (The White Album) (2016) D+
"Return to form?" Hardly ... most of the tracks seem like B-sides from some of Cuomo's earlier albums, and some are just throwaways that could have used a good number of revisions ("Endless Bummer"). Cuomo, now 45 years old, asked Tumblr users for their ideas ... so take that for what it's worth.
The Weeknd, Starboy (2016) C
He's a much-valued contributor to other people's music, but there's something so redundant about Mr. Tesfaye when he's left alone (Lana is allowed to get a few seconds in, Future is given a bit longer): he's like that one friend who, when you ask how he's doing, doesn't do you the courtesy of saying, "Just fine." He'll detail every element of every day and every moment in which he feels wronged (and wow, does he fall for the wrong women). Walking away would just be rude, so you listen ... impatiently.
Kanye West, The Life of Pablo (2016) B-
This is a wild assemblage of talents, and for at least most of it (at least up to "Wolves"), he keeps it (kinda-sorta) together. Topics covered: money (on here he claims he's rich but then on Twitter he says he's poor ... which is it?), fame, regret as well as Kanye saying dumb things (about bleached balloon knots, Taylor Swift, Amber Rose) and 'making fun' of himself ("I Love Kanye"). History decides if you're a genius (like Mr. Picasso) or just a pretender, my good man.
Wilco, Schmilco (2016) C
Not Mr. Tweedy's finest release creatively speaking, which might explain the oh-come-now title. It feels like he's trying to dig himself out of a hole and make peace with it all ("Cry All Day"), but ends up shoveling the dirt back onto himself.
Wild Nothing, Life of Pause (2016) C
Ever since the notable "Gemini" Tatum and company have been on a skid - this one works to be actively forgettable ... and sometimes cheesy ("Lady Blue," the title track). "Reichpop" is a buzzy opener.
Wye Oak, Tween (2016) D
Unimaginative "dream pop" that follows the blueprint for the genre but adds nothing of value to it. Is it just me or does "Too Right" sound a bit too similar to a System of a Down song?
Xiu Xiu, Plays the Music of Twin Peaks (2016) B-
Seems like a perfect cover album for Mr. Stewart: put his own unique twist on Badalamenti's famous score for David Lynch's cult TV series. He adds layers of background noise to "Laura Palmer's Theme" and some, ahem, embellished vocals on "Sycamore Tree" and "Falling" (they are very ... very embellished). It's hard to improve on an original, but he tries....
Yeasayer, Amen & Goodbye (2016) F
When I first saw this band as an opening act at Johnny Brenda's years ago I thought they were bad, making too much of an effort to sound "distinctive" (and with questionable vocals) - and now, years later, they still can't do much right ... only with more lousy instrumentation ("I Am Chemistry," "Divine Simulacrum"). While you're saying 'goodbye,' why not take a trip to CareerBuilder or Indeed.com like everyone else?
Singles of the Year: Anohni: "Drone Bomb Me," David Bowie: "Blackstar," Car Seat Headrest: "Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales," Death Grips: "Giving Bad People Good Ideas," DIIV: "Healthy Moon," Father John Misty: "Real Love Baby," The Field: "Soft Streams," Flume (Featuring Kai): "Never Be Like You," Hinds: "Chili Town," The Last Shadow Puppets: "Everything You've Come to Expect," Local Natives: "Coins," Okkervil River: "Okkervil River R.I.P.," Parquet Courts: "Human Performance," Peter Bjorn and John: "What You Talking About?," Preoccupations: "Memory," Radiohead: "Burn the Witch," Santigold: "Big Boss Big Time Business," School of Seven Bells: "On My Heart," Toulouse: "I Will Follow You," Wild Nothing: "Reichpop"