10 Lucinda Williams – “Big Black Train”
Lucinda Williams’ release from this year Good Souls Better Angels, her first proper LP issued in four years, is certainly not an easy listen, full of full-bodied and brooding emotion as is on display here. The vocals are almost half-muffled, half-sung, on “Big Black Train,” such is the thickness of her manifest melancholy and despair, so we take solace in at least the presence of her purposefulness in declaring “I don’t wanna get on board / That big black train”.
9 Soul Asylum – “Got it Pretty Good”
Soul Asylum, one of my favorite bands from the ’90s, randomly just put out a new album this year, and I was anything but disappointed with its strut and attitude. The centerpiece might be “Got it Pretty Good,” which details Pirner going to visit a preacher who assigns him a conspicuous and almost disappointing lack of personal problems in life, and stomps along in an infectious blues-rock groove that’s almost more full of swagger than anything we’ve got from the band to date.
8 Fatt Father – “King Talk”
This new Fatt Father joint seems to have a certain kind of focus about it — I’m not sure if his previous releases also begin with a spoken-word session of him explaining life to an ephemeral “son” figure, but it hardly seems to matter, with the father/son dynamic imbuing this music with a strangely potent vial of meaning, and the Real American Dada** himself spitting classic lines like “Fu** the mountaintop if you ain’t even hype for the climb”.
7 No Age – “Smoothie”
No Age seems to be getting progressively more and more psychedelic, so as to almost spatially symbolize the freedom they’re enjoying from the former label Sub Pop, which I think was an element unquestionably stifling of their creativity. “Smoothie” opens with a minute of droning, seemingly aimless guitar, not unlike a Sonic Youth song from the late ’80s might, before diving into this full-band trot matching regular drums with what I think is a spliced snippet of an elongated bass sound, plotted down in eighth notes. Eh, it’s killer, anyway.
6 TALsounds – “No Rise”
Peppering out soothing, expansive ambient IDM in a similar mold to Cleveland’s Emeralds, Natalie Chami, beholden of the stage name TALsounds, constructs hypnotic, semi-organized clusters of notes that are layered and elaborate, but also focused enough to make for a stable backdrop for her gorgeous, crooning vocals, like a version of Julianna Barwick with just slightly more of an urban, rhythmic sense.
5 Khruangbin – “Time (You and I)”
This band is just so SLICK it’s astonishing — from hearing the opening moments of this song you’d swear these drums are programmed, but the production and equipment reverb just really is that clean, and Donald “DJ” Ray Johnson’s playing is just that tight, like a version of Fab Moretti who grew up on T. Rex instead of The Cars. I mention in my review that this particular jam reminds me of Sly & the Family Stone, which appropriately was one of the first acts worldwide to use a drum machine on a major label release, and also lent themselves to the kind of “coolness” that can soundtrack a really stoned-out dance party.
4 Run the Jewels – “walking in the snow”
I gotta admit I’ve really given in: that is, this group REALLY rubbed me the wrong way in years past, whether it was the corny, wannabe mafia name, El-P’s obstinate preachiness or Killer Mike’s annoying rants against Hillary Clinton, but the edifice of my constitution’s compunction has finally collapsed as I admit this new album is definitely a banger. El-P’s at his most erudite: “What a disingenuous way to pi** away existence” and Killer Mike totes a keen sense of urgency through some confrontational and ultimately truly black political vitriol.
3 Blaque Dynamite – “Time out”
The Bandcamp page of LA’s Blaque Dynamite simply reads “Blaque Dynamite, (sic) follows no formula” and indeed the creative, bewildering ploys come gang-banging in through the walls right away on this title track opener which seems to fashion a nod to the hardcore punk of Bad Brains over rhythmic neo-soul, also embodying a lewd and rude breakup message to a girl, saliently enough.
2 24-Carat Black – “Your Love is My Desire”
Chicago “soul collective” 24-Carat Black belt out catchy, crisp songs that are also defiantly organic, refusing to go the way of programmed beats or “autotune pop” and leaning instead on the kitchen-sink strategy of bongo, triangle, maraca and upright bass, to name just a few of their charms. As well, Dale Warren’s got this refreshingly non-theatric way of singing, almost like he revels in awkwardness as a way of magnifying the character and originality of his band’s music.
1 Peter Oren – “In Line to Die”
The resonation and amalgamation of the rich acoustic guitar/singer binary is something to behold here, as is the overall gravity this music seems to assume, as pipe organ and drums crash the party late to push things into the sort of stalwart realm of something that approximates My Morning Jacket, with a refreshing and essential sort of directness.