January 16, 2017

Clicky Clicky's Belated Top Albums of 2016 (Jay Edition)

Clicky Clicky's Belated Top Albums of 2016 (Jay Edition)

So yeah: Hi! It's been a couple months, a couple very busy months during which we were, frankly, quite uncertain that our schedule was ever going to permit a meaningful return to the blog. But we hate not closing a loop. And while we continue to harbor doubts about the long-term prospects for what we've been internally calling "the URL version" of Clicky Clicky (as opposed to the Facebook version), we feel it would be unfair to not give our favorite records of 2016 their due, even if we already did a quick list for Facebook. So leaving our wavering commitment to populating the URL with well-considered words aside, let's round up the best the year-gone-by had to offer.

A quick glance down the list reveals some of the usual suspects -- the great KoomDogg himself chides us about our predilection for placing the mighty Johnny Foreigner at number one each year they do a full-length, and any Lubec release tends to rate high -- but also some new names. This is as it should be. Were it not for those new names we'd grow pretty disinterested in following music as closely as we do. How many articles and books can one read about The Doors, Pink Floyd, even The Clash, after all? We suppose the answer to that question is however many we've already read, but more germane to the point is how exhilarating we found the music of the new and new-to-us respectively Strange Passage and Real Numbers, for example, this year. Legends, veterans, and relative veterans such as David Bowie, Lambchop and Hallelujah The Hills all more than acquitted themselves with releases that are still -- STILL -- in heavy rotation at CCHQ (well, perhaps less so now that The XX's new joint is out).

Before we leave you to digest our thoughts on our 10 favorites below, we'd like to note that it was trying year and one in which we valued music more than ever. Our need for peace and relaxation in the face of substantial work stress made things like Spotify's Steve Reich radio station, or custom stations based on Erik Satie's Gymnopédies or the Lilys oeuvre, reliable, comforting ways to experience music. The bigger message, we suppose, and one that we'd like all readers to take to heart as we work through the new American Political Reality, is that music is there for us. It is always there. Cherish it, and it will be everything you need it to be. Now we'll shut up. Here's the best shit from last year. If you want even more detail, we first revealed our 2016 year-end album picks during a December taping of the podcast tour de force Completely Conspicuous, and the three links below will take you to the three episodes featuring my conversation with podcast proprietor Jay Kumar, the aforementioned KoomDogg.

Completely Conspicuous 452 / Completely Conspicuous 453 / Completely Conspicuous 454
01. Johnny Foreigner -- Mono No Aware -- Alcopop!/Lame-O
There is an astonishing amount of detail packed into its briskly paced 35 minutes, yet Mono No Aware succeeds in every direction. There are the blitzkrieging singles and should-be singles that are Johnny Foreigner's stock-in-trade, such as the brilliant rager "If You Can't Be Honest, Be Awesome" and fiery "The X and the O," respectively. Other successes are perhaps more subtle but substantially more exciting. Even 10 years on the band continues to best itself in terms of songcraft, adding progressive flair to a genre which -- let's be honest -- too often gets to coast on the right chords, the correct pedals. The brightly burning centerpiece of the record is the wild, vivid and deconstructed anthem "Our Lifestyles Incandescent," whose verses feature thrilling vocal arrangements structured around the voice of Chicago polymath Nnamdi Ogbonnaya. [full review].

02. Lambchop -- FLOTUS -- Merge

03. Real Numbers -- Wordless Wonder -- Slumberland
The jangle commandos' new C86-indebted collection, Wordless Wonder, is thronged with instant classics touting big melodies, scritchy guitars and maximum pep. Opener "Frank Infatuation" is timeless, and makes for an auspicious start to this high-quality release. The tune is all fuzzy strums, plunky bass, and surfy leads, delivered at a carefree, upbeat tempo, and, sure, there's a formula at work, but when the formula is this fun and well-executed, no ones cares. If you dig "Frank Infatuation" -- and it is undeniable -- make sure to check out this earlier version Real Numbers released as a digital single in 2014. Wordless Wonder's barn-storming "Just So Far Away" is even more potent, hitting hard with a chorus first before blitzkrieging through short verses and right back to the chorus again. The album truly is all killer and no filler. [Hotness blurb]

04. Frankie Cosmos -- Next Thing -- Bayonet Records

05. Lubec -- Cosmic Debt -- Disposable America
The true surprise of Cosmic Debt is not that it expands Lubec's already expansive view of guitar pop, not its beauty, sophistication or ready appeal, but rather that the whipsmart threesome does so many new things despite the record's smaller scale. [full review]

06. David Bowie -- Blackstar -- Columbia Records

07. Preoccupations -- Preoccupations -- Jagjaguwar
On its new eponymous sophomore set the band takes another unpredictable stylistic swerve, possibly in response to widespread criticism concerning the cultural insensitivity of its previous name. The rebrand provided a renewed opportunity for the foursome to reconsider its practice, and Preoccupations capitalized strongly by injecting Preoccupations with a dash of New Wave exuberance and structure that reveals another shade of the dark and classic post-punk sound it has explored since 2008. [full review]

08. Hallelujah The Hills -- A Band Is Something To Figure Out -- Discrete Pageantry
Given the band passed its 10th birthday late last year, we suppose there's a reasonable expectation Hallelujah The Hills should know what it is doing at this point. But that does not dull the dazzle and delight of the smart and agile A Band Is Something To Figure Out, which song-for-song is the band's best outing to date. Its 11 tunes cast fronter Ryan Walsh's engaging studies of the quirks of our shared reality -- the weird truths in plain sight that we can't or won't see -- within rock frameworks that reliably stretch to accommodate subversive, irreverent impulses. [full review]

09. Strange Passage -- Shine And Scatter EP -- Self-released
Shine And Scatter echoes the melodic, guitar-centered sound of the turn-of-the-'90s UK with surprising competence and confidence. Indeed, the short set's four songs echo The House of Love and the early RIDE EPs, and -- more contemporaneously -- are startlingly reminiscent of the massively underrated and short-lived aughts combo The Boyfriends. While there is a thread of shoegaze shot through Strange Passage's alluring brand of guitar pop, and Boston continues to have a strong share of contemporary 'gaze practitioners, Strange Passage's music still feels somewhat delightfully off-trend. [Hotness blurb]

10. Cold Pumas -- The Hanging Valley -- Faux Discx
File under Post-Punk Pleasures. The set includes nine new tracks; based on two fetching preview tunes, the group remains faithful to its favored motorik rhythms and wistful bummer-pop. Leading preview single "A Change of Course" is strikingly more dense and melodic than what we've come to expect from the band; it takes the two-chord pull formula of earlier tunes such as "Sherry Island" and compacts it to fit a sub-three-minute pop framework that echoes the more shoegazey side of early Deerhunter. It may very well be the best thing the Brighton combo has released (to date). Second single "Fugue States" stretches into a longer runtime, and employs open, ringing chords alongside a rambling, Ian Curtis-styled deadpan that reminds listeners that Cold Pumas know their classic gloomy post-punk inside and out. [Hotness blurb]