Sunday, December 18, 2016

16 Interesting Songs from 2016

Well hello, everybody. I'm Zak Claxton, former child fashion model and current occasional not-well-known rock star, here to hip you to some of the songs that were released in 2016 that I found interesting. Be very aware that this isn't a "Best of 2016" list. You can find those all over the place, and I don't think music has anything that qualifies as being "best" in any way, so perhaps you will enjoy the following 16 songs and the people who made them.

Side note: on a general basis, I didn't find 2016 to be nearly as great as 2015, or 2014, or especially 2013, in terms of the kinds of indie/alternative music that I really enjoy. That having been said, there was still plenty of super cool stuff. In alphabetical order (because why not?), here they are.

"The Air" (Soft Fangs)

Soft Fangs is John Lutkevich, another "one guy performing as a band" indie artist out of New York, but he does it well and with a unique take that I enjoy. Strong/sensitive songwriting is all over his first full-length album The Light, which came out in March. Get it on Bandcamp.

"Alarms" (Goat)

Goat is a super-fascinating alternative/experimental band out of Sweden. They perform in costume. What's not to like? Their new album Requiem came out in October. Get it on Bandcamp.

"Big Deal Party" (Jackal Onasis)

I really love the dissonant beauty of this New York-based band. This is the title track off their debut EP which was released in June. Plus, singing girl drummer. Get it on Bandcamp.

"The Breeze" (Lou Barlow)

Lou is a godlike legend of alternative music due to his membership in Dinosaur Jr. and Sebadoh. The guy basically invented lo-fi music in the late '80s (though maybe not on purpose). His new 5-song Apocalypse Fetish EP came out in October. It's a solo effort that showcases Lou playing... a downtuned grungy-sounding ukulele? And man, it's great. Get it on Bandcamp.

"Do You Need My Love?" (Weyes Blood)

Weyes Blood is Natalie Mering, an LA-based songwriter with a super amazing contralto voice that's kind of like a modern take on Karen Carpenter. Her new album Front Row Seat to Earth came out in October. It's her fourth full-length, and it made many of the critical "best new music" lists for good reason. If you appreciate the mellow gold of early '70s AM radio, you must hear this. Get it on Bandcamp.

"Dollar Days" (David Bowie)

It's with both happiness and sadness that I note how Bowie had songs that made my 2015 list as well as this 2016 from the same album. The first single (and title track from Blackstar) which grabbed my brain by the ears came out in November 2015, while the album itself was released in January of this year, just a few days before the artist's shocking death. "Dollar Days" has that something which only Bowie could do... that thing that made him a genre unto himself. Get it on iTunes.

"Daydreaming" (Radiohead)

While I've always appreciated what Thom Yorke and his band have done over the past 30 years, I've never counted myself among their true fans. The album they released in May of this year, A Moon Shaped Pool, is among my favorite things they've ever done -- which is all the more impressive given that most bands have used up their creative mojo by this point in their careers. Get it on iTunes.

"Favorite Things" (They Stole My Crayon)

Call me an egotist or a narcissist -- many have before and many will again. But my band's self-titled album came out in August, and if I didn't think we produced some of the most interesting music of the year, we shouldn't have bothered releasing the album in the first place. "Favorite Things" is one of my personal favorites on the Crayon album, but it's one among 12 songs that are all pretty different from what many people hear regularly. It makes the list, proudly. Get it on Bandcamp.

"Gardenia" (Iggy Pop)

This song, and the album it's on (Post Pop Depression), hit me like an anvil falling from the sky when it came out in March. I've always admired Iggy, but when you combine his totally unique vibe with the musicianship and production work of Josh Homme (Queens of the Stone Age), something magical happened. I'm pretty sure "Gardenia" is a love story about a male transvestite prostitute, and why not? Interesting music should have interesting themes, and this one sure does. Get it on iTunes.

"Human by Night" (Lucky Shivers)

A couple of years ago, my band unsuccessfully tried to have our music be featured on a podcast we all enjoyed. It's called Welcome to Night Vale, and it's fantastic. We may not have yet had our music featured on "The Weather" portion of the show, but I discovered an artist whose song that had been selected which I absolutely loved. He's a UK-based independent musician and terrific visual artist named Nicholas Stevenson, and I've actually gotten to know him a bit since discovering that song, "Here I Land". Recently, Nicholas began a new project called Lucky Shivers, and this is the first song I've heard from them, and I'm already hooked and looking forward to much more. I don't think "Human by Night" is available for purchase yet, but you can leave it happy comments on Soundcloud.

"Human Performance" (Parquet Courts)

Of all the bands on this year's list, Parquet Courts and the title track from their latest album probably requires my validation the least. The album, released in April, made the year's best lists from everyone from Pitchfork to Paste to Rolling Stone. I don't care about any of that; I just like Andrew Savage's Jimi-esque approach to the vocals and the overall vibe. I have a bad habit of turning off any Brooklyn-based indie band that other people like without giving them a chance, but Parquet Courts are cool and different enough that they merit my respect and a spot on this year's list. Get it on iTunes.

"Lonely World" (Moses Sumney)

Try and hang a genre title on LA-based singer-songwriter Moses Sumney. Go ahead, I'll wait here. The dude performs live shows all by himself (something with which I'm rather familiar), but employs all manner of loopers and effects to create lush sonic atmospheres using just voice and guitar. He released a 5-song EP called Lamentations in September, and it's remarkable. The song "Lonely World" features another LA-based musician whose talent slays me... bass player Thundercat. Get it on iTunes.

"Night Witch" (Wolf People)

Ah, I just enjoy the hell out of this UK-based psyche/folk band. I don't know or care if they're looking backward or forward in time. Their sound is both intensely rocking and deeply introspective, often within the course of the same song, which is the case of "Night Witch" from their new album Ruins which was released in November. Get it on Bandcamp.

"Someone to Lose" (Wilco)

If you're looking for "interesting", Wilco really never fails to deliver. A band that has one foot in the alt-country and Americana realm, and the other in experimental/indie art rock, they've consistently done cool things for over 20 years. The latest album Schmilco came out in September and, surprising no one, is great. "Someone to Lose" is another superb Jeff Tweedy song... he rarely misses the mark. Get it on iTunes.

"Sleep Easy" (Sam Evian)

Much like the salmon travels hundreds of miles to return to its spawning ground, I've had this huge attraction lately to artists who are showing the influence of the '70s mellow pop/rock vibe. Sam Evian does it, along with a quirky use of timing and cool production stuff that I enjoy. His new album Premium came out in September. Get it on Bandcamp.

"What" (Bart)

I'll freely admit to still having much love in my heart for progressive rock, stemming from my teen years listening to Yes (usually with a bong close by). There's a new style of prog that's become more prevalent in recent years that combines much of what I enjoy in indie rock along with the intricacy and challenging musical skills that attracted me to the original masters of the genre. Bart, a band out of Toronto, has a new album called Holomew that came out in April, and is chock full of that neo-prog vibe that I'm digging so much. Get it on iTunes.

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