Before you mock me for writing a piece on the best music from this very strange year for this very informative site, let me tell you that I write about everything under the sun: politics, artificial intelligence, robots ... politics, artificial intelligence, robots ... OK, maybe I only write about three things.
But I also write about music. I've covered the stuff for decades. I’ve interviewed everyone from Joe Strummer to Iggy Pop. I've dressed as a bunny, on stage, holding a klieg light during a Flaming Lips concert. I've drunkenly sung Public Image songs with Johnny Rotten in the back of an Austrian beer hall. I've done shots in a dank pub with well, never mind, I'm just sounding like a jerk. Fact is, I often write about music, so perhaps you can indulge one word salad a year on it.
For a while, I wrote this year-end column for the Breitbart site, and while many readers chided me for my odd musical choices, I wasn't doing it for them. I was doing it for Andrew. For years we talked about how the only way to really win the political battles was to win the cultural ones. And rather than simply ignore pop culture, it would be far better to give it a big fat bear hug. So I did, and still do.
So let me save you some time: If you aren't interested in my picks for the best records of 2016, go read something else. You probably won't miss a thing. The downside: You might miss everything!
The Avalanches: Wildflower
It took over a decade and a half for this Australian band to unleash a follow-up to its beautiful debut record, "Since I left you" — and I would say it was worth the wait if nearly every hack writer hadn't written that already. It's a giant, joyous record, the kind that would put a smile on a toaster, if toasters could smile. Check out "The Noisy Eater," maybe a song designed for kids, but one that should have been all over the radio, if radio still existed. I play it every morning when I eat cereal in the shower. I will be listening to this record until I die. It's that good. Or maybe it's that my life is that short.
Melt Yourself Down: Last Evenings on Earth
I just discovered this band, and primarily one of its songs, "Dot to Dot," which, as far as I can tell, is the greatest song I've ever heard about cancer. Maybe it's not about cancer, but I think it is. If you think I'm wrong, feel free to contact me at your leisure. I don't know much about the band, but according to Wikipedia, it’s a "London based band who incorporate elements of North African musical styles, punk, jazz and funk." But that's like describing dynamite as something made of sorbents, stabilizers and something called nitroglycerin. The sum is just much more than all those parts.
Fat White Family: Songs for our Mothers
FWF is a decadent, decrepit band of British druggies and musical anarchists who possess the same sinister, decomposing vibe of The Cramps. They are poorly dressed — if, in fact, they are ever dressed at all. All the band members, combined, could not collect a single mouthful of teeth. But like many recent bands that seem to be heading toward a dead end, they've gone and embraced the motorik vibe of Krautrock, evolving much like The Horrors did before them. Happily, they still maintain the proper sickness that makes them so absurdly charming. I wouldn't let them stay at my house, but they're not asking, thank God. This is a sick, infectious record.
The Field: The Follower
For trance music to be good, it has to sneak up on you. It's an "ear mugger." But then, when you least expect it, it should hit you in the face like a frying pan made of pulsing reverberating micro-loops. That's what The Field does. Just when you think you're listening to the same thing over and over again, it switches gears into something so fresh and new, you can't help but melt into a vibrating pile of nerve endings. You don't need stimulants for this record, but don't let me stop you.
King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard: Nonagon Infinity
What an amazing band. Holy crap! Imagine if Blue Oyster Cult were actually a group made of merciless and effortlessly propulsive robots. That’s pretty much what this insanely catchy group is: a relentless interlocking scrum of melodic hyper-precise machinery that blasts through equally interlocking songs like the train in Snowpiercer. To see them live is to see them at their best. I'm pretty sure the guitarist was wearing jorts (i.e. jean shorts) when I saw them play six months ago. I don't see this trend catching on, thankfully.
Steve Mason: Meet the Humans
A deeply melodic, cleverly written album from the former Beta Band mastermind. This will charm your ears off, so have an extra pair nearby. If you never got into the Beta Band, I envy you, because you can go enjoy them in a way I can't (as a Beta Band virgin!). Pick up their greatest hits. Or this record. What the hell: Pick up everything they've done. But don't pick up drifters. That's usually a bad idea.
Devin Townsend Project: Transcendence
Another massive record from the mad genius himself, this album is like a giant melodic hammer that hits you nonstop for roughly 70 minutes. It reminds me a bit of Devin's record from a few years back, "Epicloud," another over the top classic that also hits you in the face with a hammer for roughly 70 minutes. Devin plays pop music, but he departs from his peers in that his version of pop is heavier than a dump truck full of smaller dump trucks (and in those smaller dump trucks, even smaller ones). I've said it before: If Queen had died and reincarnated as one person, it would be Devin Townsend. He's an unsung genius who is so good, even his demo tracks (at least the ones on this record) are better than 99 percent of what you hear on any crappy awards show. It's the loudest record of the year, so if you have any hard-of-hearing relatives, this is the perfect holiday gift.
David Holmes: Late Night Tales
A compilation of songs put together by the musician who scored the British show "the Fall," also a composer whose work appears in movies like Out of Sight, Ocean’s Eleven, Ocean's Thirteen and Haywire. I don't normally go for compilations, because they're, well, compilations. Very hit and miss. But this collection is waaayyyyy different. Using songs by people I've never heard of (but also Buddy Holly and, oddly, Jeff Bridges!), he creates a profound movie for your ears, focusing on mortality, life and love. It's pretty incredible, memorable stuff. The first song, "Great Father Spirit in the Sky," is a chilling chant about grieving for the dead and the hopelessness of it all and hoping for heaven by a person I've never heard of named Barry Woolnough. Check it out on YouTube. It sticks with you like a scar from a childhood accident.
This is the kind of music you would expect to hear when artificial intelligence finally reaches super intelligence — fast surpassing human smarts, happily turning us into fleshy lifeless footstools. The latest from this Canadian electronic duo consisting of two sinister lads named AI-P (Alex Puidziukas) and Jesse Keeler (from Death from Above 1979) is a harsh, heaving electronic slab of devious intensity. It's great music when you're doing your laundry — especially if your laundry consists of trying to scrub out a lot of blood stains from the unfortunate visit to the local zoo. At this point, it's pretty clear that electronic music can be every bit as unnerving as any death metal.
Beyond the Wizards Sleeve: The Soft Bounce
A debut of original songs from Erol Alkin and Richard Norris, two guys who usually unleash vintage psyche through dance floor remixes. Made in 2016, it's a mess of decades slathered in electronica, guitars, percussion and joy. It's more fun than a bag of bunny heads (and trust me, a bag of bunny heads can be joyous fun). Every song on this record is pretty big, and bold, and happy. By the way, I have no idea what a "wizards sleeve" is, but I assume it’s a euphemism for something.
Black Mountain: IV
Psyche rock done to perfection. Imagine heavy riffs performed by a band of solemn Transformers — and you've got it. This record has my second favorite song of the year, a hard rock burner called "Florian Saucer Attack," which peels the lids off your eyeballs, then makes you eat them in front of your family. It's not as unpleasant as it sounds.
Mr. Oizo: All Wet
This is an amazingly fun record, and it's no wonder — it's by film director Quentin Dupieux, the guy who made the movie "Rubber," which was about a large, killer rubber tire. Did you see it? I think Kurt Loder and I are the only ones who did. Check out the trailer online, or don't (it's really up to you). Anyway, this record is a churlish collection of playful grooves, featuring some known vocalists here and there. But the music is what makes it a delight — catchy ear worms that make your synapses giggle before they pass out in a pile of their own synaptic filth. Peaches shows up on one song, but she tends to do that a lot these days. Tune your guitar, and she'll show up to repeat details about her anatomy. It's a talent.
Tobacco: Sweatbox Dynasty
Another fine record by the master of evil himself, the lead culprit behind Black Moth Super Rainbow. If you've never listened to Tobacco, then you truly haven't lived (or died, because this stuff will kill you). I've said this before about Tobacco, aka Tom Fec: other musicians pretend not to know who he is, because they're busy ripping him off. Mark my ignored words: Fec will be viewed, years from now, as some guy who foreshadowed everything (including automated underpants)
Another mischievous mix of electronic dance gumballs. Sparkling with wit and rhythm, it's something to listen to while thinking of cartoonish ways to strangle your loud neighbors. The songs are short enough that if you don't like them, it really doesn't matter; they'll be over soon. Just like life! :)