by: Michael Shields & Chris Thompson
Across the Margin takes stock of the status of music in 2016, stopping at the midway point to offer its picks for the best songs of the year (so far)…
Autolux – Brainwasher
From the kickass spacerock band that brought us “Turnstile Blues” off of 2004’s incredible Future Perfect, comes a wild new offering from the LA band born of cesspools and reverberated street riffs. Jack White’s recruitment of Autolux’s Carla Azar to play drums in his all-female band the Peacocks was a no brainer. Her talents behind the drum set are dizzying, and becoming the stuff of legend, drawing comparisons to Keith Moon and ?uestlove and Radiohead’s Phil Selway. But what Azar’s done in the past is nothing compared to how she flexes her muscles on Autolux’s latest album, Pussy’s Dead. Easily their best album to date, we’ve been wondering why this band hasn’t been more on the scene, blowing up people’s radar left and right. Produced by Boots, whose past accomplishments include stellar production on tracks by Beyoncé, Run The Jewels and FKA twigs, Autolux’s latest is the penultimate coda on a fine trio of albums that have seen the band stepping up their songwriting over the last twelve years. All the tracks on Pussy’s Dead are splended, so picking one over the other is a bit like trying to find the best raw oyster amongst the dozen you have sitting before you. Because the fact of the matter is, they’re oysters, every single one of them is damn fine so stop poking them with your fork and get in there and start shooting them down! “Brainswasher’s” a great place to start if any of what we’ve had to say has piqued your interest, but honestly, loading up Pussy’s Dead and simply pushing play ain’t a bad way to introduce yourself to the cause. Trust us, you’ll be happy you did.
Kendrick Lamar – Untitled 06
With all thanks due (apparently) to Lebron James for requesting of Kendrick to compile the lionshare of his unreleased material, mostly outtakes from the recording of last year’s masterful To Pimp a Butterfly, his latest album Untitled Unmastered came out of left field and hit hard. More loose and untethered than the conceptualized Kendrick albums that came before it, Untitled Unmastered is, simply put, just some dope straight-forward hip-hop from one of the best doing it. “Untitled 06” features guest vocals from Cee Lo and production by Adrian Young and A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and serves as a reminder that if you tucked away Untitled Unmastered after the first initial run throughs, it is time to unsheath that bad boy, for these bangers are made for summertime.
Ty Segall – Candy Sam
Having Ty Segall on our Mid-year and Best Of music lists seems to be a theme over here at Across the Margin. But putting all favoritism aside, the kid is just that goddamn good of a musician, and so his presence is rightfully earned. If you were to take the psychedelia of Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett and meld it with the eccentric genius of Frank Zappa, you might get a sense of what Ty’s music, and performances are like. But there’s also an intangible quality that Segall provides that punches that comparison high into orbit. On his latest album, Emotional Mugger, an offering filled with hard-hitting, gut punch rockers, “Candy Sam” stands out as a true gem and a fine distillation of what the Emotional Mugger experience is all about. And if you need added incentive to take our word on this, simply watch Ty Segall and the Muggers performance of “Candy Sam” on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and you’ll see why this performance is one of those that deserves to be immortalized in the Late Night Television Hall of Fame.
The Besnard Lakes – Pressure of Our Plans
The Besnard Lakes are a Canadian indie rock group from Montreal. We state this so plainly and matter of factly as we believe far too many people are not familiar with one of the greatest rock bands out there crushin’ it. Formed by the husband and wife team of Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas in the early 00s, The Besnard Lakes brand of psych-rock is entirely mesmeric and biting all at once. Their latest album, A Coliseum Complex Museum, may be their best work yet (although 2007’s The Besnard Lakes Are the Dark Horse and 2010’s The Besnard Lakes are the Roaring Night are two unadulterated classics that age like a bordeaux from the Medoc Region of France), and “Pressure of Our Plans” exhibit the band’s knack for remodeling an uplifting melodic groove into a vorticose whirlwind of frenzied psychedelia. “Pressures of Our Plans” is an essential Besnard Lakes’ track that is as mind-bending as it is soaring, and can aptly serve as an ideal starting point for newcomers to the band.
DJ Shadow with Run the Jewels – Nobody Speak
We should have seen this coming, but admittedly we did not. With the benefit of hindsight, we’ve realized it was inevitable that the legendary DJ Shadow – a man at the forefront of redefining what instrumental hip-hop could be and who released the first, completely sampled album ever (Entroducing) – would team with the unstoppable force that is Run the Jewels (El-P and Killer Mike). The fruits of this union, a track entitled “Nobody Speak,” off Shadow’s forthcoming album, The Mountain Will Fall, is as hard-hitting and in your face as any hip-hop track that was released this year. Shadow created the beat specifically for Mike and Jaime saying, “occasionally, I make a beat that demands a specific vocal treatment and attitude. In the case of ‘Nobody Speak,’ I wasn’t going to settle for anyone other than Run The Jewels; in my mind, it was them or no one. Fortunately, they agreed, and they took the track to a place I could never get to on my own. That’s the definition of a rewarding collaboration.” Rewarding indeed. Straight fire.
Manatee Commune – Clay
For the last few years, Manatee Commune has been fomenting the adoration of his fans with his lush, one man electronic shows where everything from violin, to inventive sonic programming to pressure-sensitive LED drum breaks combine to create wildly exciting and alluring music. We were able to catch up with him (aka Washington-born Grant Eadie) as he passed through the Pacific Northwest with Blackbird Blackbird and Chad West in celebration of his newly released Thistle EP, and a run up to a new album for the summer of 2016. One of the EP’s stronger tracks, “Clay,” is one of those dreampop musical adventures you imagine might exist in a world birthed from the mind of an overstimulated teenager fueled by visions of glitter, first dates and dreams of an endless summer. It’s a truly radiant and light-hearted track, yet lent an especially powerful slant by the playful yet evocative vocals of the talented Marina Price. And if you ever get a chance to see Manatee Commune’s one-man show live, go! We promise the energy he puts forth at his shows, mixed with gorgeous HD projections of nature in repose, combine to create a truly unique musical atmosphere in which to experience his sound.
Animal Collective – Lying in the Grass
It is triumphantly apropos that Animal Collective chose to record their latest album Painting With at the same studio (EastWest Studios) where the Beach Boys recorded their famed Pet Sounds album. Both albums masterfully and meticulously weave together a lush collage of vocal harmonies and innovative sounds. It is safe to say that there is no band out there that sounds quite like Animal Collective and the confounding soundscapes they craft are both buoyant and intoxicating. Their recent album finds Animal Collective immersed in deep sonic expeditions and the high point of the album, “Lying in the Grass,” behaves like an echo, intoxicatingly potent at first and then dancing off into a blissful nothingness as the track comes to its pulsating conclusion.
Parquet Courts – Human Performance
Parquet Courts, in our estimation, is one of the more exciting rock bands on the planet right now, and the reason for this is a consistency in output (the experimental Monastic Living a unique exception) and the way in which they seem to channel Dirty-era Sonic Youth, White Light / White Heat-era Velvet Underground and the Stop Making Sense-era Talking Heads (with hints of Elvis Costello and Television abounding as well) simultaneously. The title track on their latest album Human Performance is as moving a song vocalist / guitarist Andrew Savage has ever penned, displaying a more thoughtful and assured version of the Brooklyn rockers, and hinting that their best is still yet to come.
Massive Attack – Dead Editors
A more rap heavy offering from the trip-hop pioneers, Massive Attack’s latest EP, Ritual Spirit, reminds its fans that they can push their sound forward while staying dutiful to their past. Responsible for putting out not one, but three of the most influential albums of the 1990’s, Massive Attack’s attempts to rekindle that defining sound on Ritual Spirit succeeds with the album’s blistering opening track, “Dead Editors.” The song feels like it could have existed within the confines of their stunning 2003 release 100th Window, an album that we still find ourselves returning to thirteen years later. When founding member Grant Marshall returned to Massive Attack for 2010’s brilliant Heligoland, he promised, jokingly, to “bring the black back to Massive Attack.” With “Dead Editors” he does just that. Featuring London-based rapper Roots Manuva and filled with borderline paranoid vibes, endless trippy jungle beats, and the wild electronic oscillations that made Massive famous, “Dead Editors” and the other three tracks off the Ritual Spirit EP have propelled the Massive Attack of twenty years ago, firmly into the present tense.
Radiohead – Burn the Witch
It wasn’t easy. Deciding amongst the bevy of lush soundscapes that comprises Radiohead’s ninth studio album, A Moon Shaped Pool, was a trying task to say the least. Because on an album that we lovingly described as “the soundtrack for the end of the world” in our First Impressions article, each and every song on the album is a distinct and captivating journey and worthy of praise. So, we decided to let ourselves off the hook and champion the song that acted as the album’s introduction, “Burn the Witch.” Potentially the most straight-forward (relatively) and rocking song on A Moon Shaped Pool, “Burn the Witch” wasn’t just a blatant reminder that Radiohead still had it, but that they were about to once again shake the music world to its core. It’s a highly affecting song that moves with urgency, and invokes in the listener what all great Radiohead songs do, deep anxiety and the urge to rock the fuck out.
Beck – Wow
Coming off his 2015 Grammy Award for Best Album with the seminal Morning Phase, and newly minted in its success, Beck’s latest single, “Wow” is a larger than life stunner. With a career book that seems to have no end, musical chapters that have no peers, and an otherworldly back catalog that spans genres as easily as it does musical styles, Beck is truly one of the greatest musicians alive. “Wow,” with its “Giddy up” call to action, its massively infectious hook and lo-fi sounding lyrics rapped in a manner that only Beck can get away with, feels like it would be right at home on 1996’s Odelay, but only if the album was stripped of its past polish and hit with a modern coat of dayglo paint. “Wow” is the second single released from Beck’s forthcoming album, and if it’s any hint of what’s to come, we couldn’t be more thrilled…and ready.
Oddisee – Lifting Shadows
We feel it’s a shame we don’t hear more about Oddisee rattling around in the hip-hop stratosphere. He gets respect sure, but we don’t perceive the amount is suitable for the talents of this Washington DC rapper and producer. Recently Oddisee dropped a seven song EP entitled Alwasta (a “plug” – as in a middleman) which includes a song so poignant in meaning that we urge any and all who are sifting through these selections to dive in promptly. Ruminating on what it means to be a Muslim in modern America, and what it feels like to cope with the concerns with family overseas in war-torn regions of the globe, “Lifting Shadows” displays both the lyrical prowess that has us hailing Oddisee as one of the best doing it while also opening up a window onto the living hell so many in this country face just because of the color of their skin or the god they choose to worship. “All in the name – I got a name that’ll scare all the brave in the land of the free / All in the name of protecting a country that’s shooting its citizens dead in the streets,” Oddisee spits in one of the most important tracks to be released in 2016 so far.
Young Magic – Lucien
Admittedly, we were high on edibles, waiting for Yeasayer to begin their show and blow the doors off NYC’s Irving Plaza when we first heard Young Magic. Their opening set, and their soulful, experimental sound – flung forward at the audience by Jakarta born Indonesian-American vocalist Melati Malay’s range and the relentless, dual percussive attack of Isaac Emmanuel and Michael Italia on drums – gave us pause as we waited for Yeasayer to take the stage. We inquired aloud, excitedly, to any who would listen, “Who is this? What is this sound?” The next day, we had our answer. Young Magic was on our tongues and their latest album, Still Life, was in our ears. It’s a breathtaking album, their best to date, and the album’s second track, “Lucien” is all the introduction you’ll need to what we’re sure will be your new favorite band.
David Bowie – Lazarus
It is still mind-boggling to reflect upon David Bowie’s carefully orchestrated farewell transmission to the world that was his final album, Blackstar. Bowie’s parting gift to his fans reached its zenith with its title track “Lazarus” which, along with its accompanying music video, served as a tranquil pageantry and a dispatch from beyond the grave the likes of which we have never encountered before. “Lazarus” is musical poetry with a layering to it that feels as much steeped in Bowie’s life as it does in a cosmic and otherworldly intangible, and in some way that lends comfort to the idea of his loss, and acts as fitting farewell to a true enigmatic genius whose departure was as artistic and affecting as his inspirational existence.
Porches – Underwater
Porches latest album, Pool, is a little more electronic than we were expecting from the folky murk of past releases, but we can attest that the changes to Aaron Maines sound are well received. The album’s opening track, “Underwater,” attests to the sort of message that we think the Porches of the now have embraced, that they’ve turned in their musical instruments and bought themselves a few turntables and drum pads. And that’s not a bad thing at all in our minds. Reinvention usually means marching off the cliff’s of our comfort zones and creating what you need to survive the plunge as you fall. With “Underwater,” you get a sense that Porches have made themselves a gorgeous pair of wings, full of crisp pop sounds, beachy synths and bubbly drums that find them soaring over all.
Tortoise with Georgia Hubley – Yonder Blue
Everytime we forget how obscenely talented Chicago post-rock legends Tortoise are, it’s almost as if they sense this misremembering of their unfathomable skillset and gift the world with another unmitigated reminder. This was the case with 2004’s It’s All Around You and 2009’s Beacons of Ancestorship, and now once again with this year’s splendid The Catastrophist. Our favorite track from this gem of an album is a bit subdued for a Tortoise track, but what is lacking in their characteristic percussive madness is made up for with calculated beauty. “Yonder Blue” features Yo La Tengo’s Georgia Hubley on vocals, and her heavenly whisper atop Tortoise’s sleek and restrained soundscape is surely the most euphoric track we have stumbled upon in 2016 thus far.
Chance the Rapper – Mixtape
Chance the Rapper’s latest mixtape, Colouring Book, is a soulful and thorough exhibition of one of the most talented young musicians in the world. Although this was – technically speaking – his first commercial release, Chance remains the greatest unsigned rapper in all of hip-hop. And “Mixtape” is a celebration of his desire to forge his own path. Acting as an ode to the artform of mixtapes, “Mixtape” is Chance’s opportunity to shine his ethos and for his fans to celebrate his efforts to hook up the goods “straight out the faucet.” With dope verses by both Young Thug and Lil Yachty, “Mixtape” is just one of the many outstanding tracks on Colouring Book, but the one that makes clear why Chance is so special of an artist in the first place.