Text: Paul Parreira
My personal criteria for the 2016 Ravelin year-end music list are based not only on the number of times I played an album or song, but also on the impact it had on how I value good music: mood, production, style, influences, lyrics (if any), energy and lastly, whether I bought it on vinyl or not. If I make a purchase on vinyl, then it’s got to be good.
Overall, it was another killer year for indie and electronic music. I have to pay attention to the charts because of work I do with brands, retailers and entertainment companies, and most of what I hear just isn’t very good. Unless you’re a college student or a tween, most of what’s on the charts simply sucks. What I look for is usually under the radar or on the indie scene. I’m always looking for debut albums by young bands looking to make a mark. A lot of it is style over substance, but you might get a great song, and occasionally you get a great album. Here is a list of ten of the good releases from this year with annotation and another list of ten that are worth checking out.
Tycho – Epoch (Ghostly International)
Yes, another instrumental thriller from San Francisco-based graphic designer and musician Scott Hansen. As on his previous releases, the drumming and the guitar playing really lead the production. On Epoch, Tycho’s fifth album, there’s a stunning array of melodies striding and flexing. Less spacey than the 2014 stunner Awake, but still driven by the psych-rock ethos of prog, with an experimental whisper of early electronic music.
Tasseomancy – Do Easy (Bella Union)
Terrible, terrible name for a band. (It means the reading of tea leaves.) One of the many problems with indie music is that it seems too cool, untouchable and in-the-know, and these types of names ruin it for the casual fan. Now the good news. This is a great album. It delivers a glacier-level stab of pristine vocals and dreamy-all-over instrumentation. The filmic sound can seem almost like a joke in places—particularly on the lyrics—but most of the time it works really well. A Cocteau Twins/4AD vibe can be heard throughout the production. Kate Bush is also a point of reference here and for the heads—Virginia Astley or Mary Margaret O’Hara.
CFCF – On Vacation (International Feel Recordings)
Just don’t call it chillwave. Montréal’s Michael Silver goes deeper than your average electronic artist—he mixes acoustic instruments, live piano and other organic sounds into the production. Five albums deep, with a strong underground following and an album released on the second-coolest record label in the world, International Feel, this is the sound of the artist spreading his wings.
Tempelhof & Gigi Masin – Tsuki (Hell Yeah Recordings)
What do you get when you put three amazing Italian musicians in a recording studio together? The sound on Tsuki. The trio’s second outing on Hell Yeah Recordings has a spiritual, mellow vibe with touches of G igi Masin’s ambient piano, his voice occasionally breaking through Tempelhof’s trademark ambient soundscapes.
Hope Sandoval and the Warm Inventions – Until the Hunter (Tendril Tales)
This record shimmers and shines. While listening I realized how much Beach House owes to Hope Sandoval’s solo work and Mazzy Star—specifically the moodier, less- acoustic work she’s done. Check out “Into the Trees,” whose dark, echoing feel could be on any Beach House record of the last few years. Three records in fifteen years is not a lot of work, but because of the depth of Sandoval’s art, it’s a lot to take in.
Mark Barrott – Sketches From An Island 2 (International Feel Recordings)
Inspired by the laidback style on the Spanish island of Ibiza, Mark Barrott creates retro-feel music that’s rooted in Balearic, but it’s really so much more. It’s an easygoing sound: slide guitars, soul record loops, flutes, world music, it all comes together like a great DJ set. Somehow Barrott makes it work, as a soft mash-up of sorts transports you to a beautiful beach as the sun is setting.
Marconi Union – Ghost Stations (Just Music)
This Manchester, UK-based trio could easily be considered sound designers. They’ve dabbled in sound therapy with scientists, created sound installations for art shows and have written soundtracks for film. The songs slowly reveal themselves from textural noise, as steadily horns, keys, drums and full-on band instrumentation can be heard. Sometimes electronic, sometimes jazzy, sometimes ambient, but always good. It’s inspiring.
The Still – Soundtracks (Seriés Aphōnos)
These instrumental songs exist somewhere between the ether of improvisational jazz and ambient music. When I’m listening to music I try to consider how the sound of the notes and chords push the air around space in the room, our environment, and that’s precisely what The Still do. It’s a freeform sound challenging us and creating tension that you can feel as much as hear.
David Bowie – Blackstar (Columbia)
When David Bowie appeared in the Scott Walker documentary talking about how influenced he was by him, my first thought was “I hope Bowie makes a Scott Walker-sounding record some day.” And this is it. A goodbye letter, an experiment, a gesture to keep us fascinated by his artistic genius. This is a transcendent expression, much like a Buddhist koan, a trivial storyline that takes many listens to reveal the true meaning.
Wolf Müller & Cass – The Sound of Glades (International Feel Recordings)
Is world music having a comeback? I’ve always appreciated world music sounds like bells, native drums and other third-world percussion. The Sound of Glades filters it through electronics in a very cool way. It sounds like a soundtrack from an ’80s movie directed by Ridley Scott. It moves in a clear direction forging a path that is unlike any music you’ve heard this year.
Wilson Tanner – 69
Kate Bush – Before the Dawn
Aphex Twin – Cheetah EP
Agnes Obel – Citizen of Glass
Diana – Familiar Touch
Laura Mvula – The Dreaming Room
Loscil – Monument Builders
Rumer – This Girl’s In Love
Ryley Walker – Golden Sings That Have Been Sung
The Album Leaf – Between Waves