My Top Ten Albums of the Year: 10-7



Well, gang, I’ve finally finished my exhaustive qualifying rounds and come up with a more-or-less scientific list of the best rock albums of 2016. Since this process required many, many listens, I’ve got a lot to say about all these records. Therefore, it’ll be split into three chunks. Today we’ll cover 10 through 7.

Let’s get started.

10. Mitski – Puberty 2

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Mitski Miyawaki displays astonishing versatility on her latest, Puberty 2She goes from coy and dreamy in the title track, Happy,” to self-deprecating in “I Bet on Losing Dogs,” before finally delivering a straight-rocker in “A Loving Feeling.” This album has stark beauty, chaotic noise and moments of pure joy, and keeps developing upon listen after listen. The subtle electro-pop of “Crack Baby” in particular never quite sat right with me until I was listening to it for this review and suddenly found myself enjoying it. The best records gain power as time and context collect around them, and I have a feeling that this is one of them.

9. Wild Beasts – Boy King

Boy King is one of the more appropriate titles in this year’s roster. The English group’s synthy, catchy and brazenly sexual piece is an all-around celebration/deconstruction of modern masculinity. Big Cat” positions its narrator as top of the heap, the lion at the head of the food chain, just looking for new prey. “Alpha Female” laments the same narrator’s inability to find a woman to go “toe-to-toe” with him, so to speak. An undercurrent of narcissism and low-key sexism runs just below the surface, but Wild Beasts present this narrator, this “modern man” as a cautionary tale, not some kind of admirable ubermensch. It isn’t until album closer Dreamliner” that the group begins to poke holes in its ostensibly perfect protagonist. The plastic bravado presented in the rest of the album would be too much to take were it not for the finale, which uses the isolation of the womb to present the protagonist in his true form. In the words of songwriter Hayden Thorpe, “To be this guy, to be the colossus, it means that you have to go somewhere alone and isolate yourself to be that guy.” Without this deflating and humanizing coda, Wild Beasts may have just created an album version of American Psycho’s Patrick Bateman. Instead, they’ve created something much more interesting.

8. PUP – The Dream is Over

Deliciously dysfunctional Canadian group PUP have created an ode to failed relationships, depression, anxiety, pet death and the power of sad-drinking. And it’s a fucking blast! Well, mostly. In fact, the group disguises some fairly grim stuff behind their fast tempos and heavy guitars. “Can’t Win,” is about the slow and agonizing realization that despite your best efforts, you just might be completely ordinary. When singer Stefan Babcock sings “I just wanna be something/Never thought I’d be nothing at all,” the disappointment is palpable. PUP, in a way, have created the antidote to Wild Beast’s record. Rather than an overconfident, cartoonishly macho protagonist, the male role model in The Dream is Over spends more nights than not passing out drunk before accomplishing anything. In true punk fashion, PUP is plenty angry, but most of the hostility is directed inward, rather than at society. Closing song “Pine Point” ties the whole thing together with the story of an abandoned town that has been erased from the map. No memories or artifacts from the town remain, which can be read several two ways: On one hand, no past equals no pain, and an individual can invent a whole new identity with which to approach the future. It’s not as if someone from Pine Point is going to show up and contradict your story. This presents limitless possibilities. On the other hand, no past equals no idea who you are or where you come from. Your persona has no narrative. You may be free from pain, but you’re also free from anything interesting. Heavy stuff for a 35-minute album.

7. Parquet Courts – Human Performance 

Parquet Courts might be the best “indie-rock” band working today for the simple reason that they embody many possible meanings of this term. A little Pavement here, a little Talking Heads there, Parquet Courts are equally at home all over the map. It’s a testament to their songwriting that the material never feels derivative, even when it invokes strong associations to other artists. While a song like “Steady On My Mind” is obviously heavily influenced by Pavement, it’s a good enough song to break from the mold. Elsewhere, “One Man No City” wouldn’t be out of place in David Byrne’s catalog. Luckily, these songs consistently become more than mere homages to their influences. Andrew Savage and Austin Brown paint vivid pictures of human interaction that feel authentic. For example, the track “I Was Just Here,” laments the feeling of going to your favorite hole-in-the wall Chinese restaurant only to find that it was been closed without ceremony. That’s an incredibly specific feeling that a lot of people have probably experienced. Parquet Court’s latest is loaded with that sort of thing; it’s a brand-new album that feels familiar, with just the right amount of urban “cool.”

Stay tuned for 6-4!

Photo: Parquet Courts; credit By Danielil [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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