Hellbound’s End of Year Wrap Up: Part 7
Well, hell’s bells – 2016 was a hellride of a year, wasn’t it?! As the New Year comes creeping in with trepidation, the individual members of Team Hellbound take a look back at our favourites of the year, give our personal thoughts on the state of heavy metal in 2016, and take a look forward at what’s to come.
As always, we here at Hellbound thank you all for your continued readership, and we wish you a very headbanging Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Happy Holidays from Hellbound!
— Kyle Harcott
While I heard a lot of people complain that 2016 was a really poor year for rock and all its associated sub-genres (punk, hardcore, hard rock, stoner rock, metal, etc.), the only thing I can assume is that those critics simply weren’t listening. In fact, picking out JUST TEN great albums this year was nearly fucking impossible; doing so forced me to leave out many albums, those by Fat White Family, Dandy Warhols, XIXA and Pup among them. It feel like I’m doing a lot of bands a disservice in limiting my list, but ten is what I was asked for and so ten is what I’ve listed here, in inverse order (to at least add a bit of anticipation among those who, like me, don’t just want to look at the Number Ones before moving on).
Best Albums of 2016
- The Pixies – Head Carrier (PIAS America/Sony Music)
More than any other band in memory (Ozzy might come close though, as he proved when he reissued Blizzard Of Ozz with the drum and bass parts re-recorded to cut the original rhythm section out of royalties a couple of years ago), The Pixies really do shine when they’re being petulant. The proof stands in the listening to Head Carrier (which is intended to be synonymous with martyrdom, in this case); on their sixth full-length, David Lovering, Joey Santiago and Black Francis go out of their way to make an album which is a great throwback to the band’s Surfer Rosa days, specifically just to prove that they could do it without Kim Deal. It’s loud, it’s caustic, it’s angry and it never backs down once – it’s great.
- Like A Motorcycle – High Hopes (Ground Swell Records)
Blazing out of a city which also gave birth to band’s like Sloan (Halifax) may have turned out to be how both Like A Motorcycle and their debut album, High Hopes, first garnered notice, but it won’t take long for those who pick the album up to realize how good it is. On High Hopes, Like A Motorcycle just flat-out assault listeners in the finest tradition of Riot Grrrl bands like L7 and Bikini Kill and don’t bother to pull any punches before just unceremoniously walking away and leaving listeners to try and collect themselves.
- Green Day – Revolution Radio (Reprise Records)
As any fan with quietly admit, it’s about time Green Day pulled themselves out of the conceptually-driven cycle they’d locked themselves into for the last twelve years, and Revolution Radio finally delivers something truly fresh. Finally, there is no concept driving this album, it’s just a really good Green Day album which features twelve really good pop punk songs as only Green Day can make them. That it just that simple is selling point enough.
- Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree (Bad Seed Ltd./Sony Music)
Over the last few years, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds have gone out of their way to reach in almost every musical direction they’re able in order to show just how versatile they can be. Many fans will say it has yielded great results and that’s true – but Skeleton Tree proves to be the best (in this critic’s opinion), because all it does is show that they have a softer side and can be lovers when the mood strikes them. Throughout Skeleton Tree, the throes of romance build and the darkness which has always been a part of Cave’s persona gets softened and mixed in evenly so that it is no longer a clear or dramatic feature of the music – the darkness just heightens the passion instead. It’s beautiful, and beautifully done.
- NOFX – First Ditch Effort (Fat Wreck Chords)
This year had already been a remarkable one for NOFX before First Ditch Effort came out (the band published its autobiography, Hepatitis Bathtub and Other Stories, in addition to the group’s members showing a tremendous amount of personal growth), but in this album’s thirteen songs stands the proof that, after working through a bunch of their demons with their autobiography, the band was able to come out fresh with new ideas and new focus. On First Ditch Effort, NOFX successfully proves to listeners that all the mess the book addressed has been stripped off and just gets to work. “I’m A Transvest-lite” celebrates Fat Mike’s more fluid sexuality while “Dead Beat Mom” looks at his divorce and “Six Years On Dope” addresses (sort of) the end of the singer’s drug over use (he might not be 100% clean, but he’s better than he was). That’s pretty cool to hear, but the album isn’t all about Mike; “Oxy Moronic” takes a couple of very well-placed shots at the verbiage of the politically correct and how perfectly futile it is, while “I’m So Sorry Tony” addresses the death of Tony Sly in a perfectly cathartic and respectful way. Collected together, the songs on First Ditch Effort feel like they might just represent a new beginning for NOFX which is really heartening; they’re in good shape and their fans are going to need them to be, if anyone hopes to make it out of the dark ages which are coming with the presidency of Donald Trump.
- David Bowie – Blackstar (Sony Music)
I’m sure David Bowie’s final album will top plenty of Year-End lists, but I just cannot bring myself to do that – it’s difficult to imagine putting forth an album as Record of the Year, knowing full well that its creator cannot present a follow-up release. That does not mean blackstar isn’t a great album though, in fact, it is my favorite Bowie album in over a decade. blackstar presents David Bowie as an ambitious musician to his very last, and it is the best of the singer’s neo-classical period. While bittersweet, that’s not a bad note on which to end.
- Descendents – Hypercaffium Spazzinate (Epitaph)
On their newest album, the Descendents begin boldly examining their age as the tape rolls but, rather than just feeling like a trite concession of fact (like saying “Okay, well, we’re fifty!” like The Ramones did when they released their farewell album, Adios Amigos), the band has a little fun with it. On “No Fat Burger,” for example, Aukerman bemoans the fact that he doesn’t get to indulge his favorite culinary subject (greasy food) anymore, as he complains “Can’t have no more juicy burgers/ Can’t have no more greasy fries/ Doctor took my lipid profile/ He told me I’m barely alive,” before punctuating it all with the sour point (which echoes back to the band’s Bonus Fat EP) “No more fat/ No more fat/ I like food, but all the food that tastes good/ I can’t have that.” In that, longtime fans will giggle because the venom in Aukerman’s voice is impossible to miss and illustrates that the singer has aged well because he’s actually accepting it. It doesn’t happen often in punk rock, but it plays incredibly well here.
- Fews – Means (PIAS America)
While it has already been called a punk record, Means doesn’t try to pay lip service to most of the formulaic tenets typically associated with punk, and doesn’t bother allying with hardcore, indie or even something as vague as “the underground” either. Simply put, this album stands all on its own. It might sound a little trite, but that disinterest in generic terms might be the best point that the album has going for it outside of the music; it stands alone, can’t be lumped in with anything. That’s the kind of exciting thing which spawns all new cultural movements.
- Great Apes – California Heart (Asian Man)
It may have taken a few releases for the band to get the bugs worked out of their sound (they’ve already got one full-length album, one comp which collected a bunch of previously released tracks and a bunch of singles and EPs on top of that too), but Great Apes have truly found their magic on California Heart – their sophomore album. That is not to say California Heart arrives with no stray sparks of chaos and devoid of raw nervous energy, it simply means the band has tempered and honed their sound to a fine edge; there are no wasted movements anywhere through these ten songs, just a solid set which swings for the fences every time and never misses.
- Dean Ween Group – The Deaner Album (ATO/Cadence)
Ever since Ween announced its dissolution in 2012, the band’s fans have agonized over what might come next from founding members Aaron “Gene Ween” Freeman and Mickey “Dean Ween” Melchiondo. Some of them figured they pretty much had the group’s dynamic nailed; because Melchiondo was the huskier-voiced entity in the group and already had side projects like Moist Boyz on his resume, the lighter, more “songwriterly” material must have been Freeman’s contribution. That assumption gained credence when his first “post-Ween” album Free.man appeared on Dine Alone Records in 2014. It is finally with the release of the long-awaited, much anticipated solo album from The Dean Ween Group, The Deaner Album, that fans and critics will really get the chance to discover how absolutely, positively shallow their assumptions about Melchiondo’s contributions to Ween were though; simply said, The Deaner Album marks the emergence of an absolutely incredible musical talent – he simply chose to share the spotlight before now.
Now, to be fair, The Deaner Album begins exactly how many critics may have expected it would. As it opens, listeners will find they’re only tepidly excited by “Dickie Betts” because it’s just such a typical song to hear coming out of a guitarist’s side project. True, Melchiondo nails the tone and attack that Betts brought to the Allman Brothers Band (brown sugar-sweet Les Paul leads propped up by a guitar-centered, caramel-flavored rhythm figure – check), but it’s just so very ‘of the norm’ for a guitar player that, at first, it causes sighs of disappointment. It’s just so by-the-book! It’s precisely what fans would expect of any guitar player – and that it’s an instrumental number only furthers that point.
Happily, the whole world seems to flip on its head (some Ween fans would say, ‘as it should’) immediately after “Dickie Betts” runs out and “Exercise Man” runs in on a distinctly ‘brown’ tack. This is where many dots come to be connected for listeners who had previously underestimated Melchiondo (among whom I must confess that I should count myself); the speedy, stringy guitar which drives “Exercise Man” pushes the track along manically in much the same way “Ocean Man” and “Waving My Dick In The Wind” did on The Mollusk and “Take Me Away” did on Chocolate and Cheese, and instantly causes adrenaline levels to shoot up and inspire those who hear it to begin dancing ecstatically – it’s absolutely delightful.
After “Exercise Man” gets the album really moving, The Deaner Album continues to shoot out sparks of brilliance which are guaranteed to hold listeners enthralled by touching upon all of the points which always tickle a Ween fan’s fancy through the muscular/elastic “Bundle Of Joy,” the desert rock tones which color “Charlie Brown,” the minute-long, “Hey Fancy Pants”-esque instrumental recreation “Schwartze Pete” and the sexy-ish, sweaty nod to Prince “Mercedes Benz” which will have those who loved Ween sighing in fits of rapture. While there are a couple of weaker moments in this run-time (“Gum” is a throwaway, the Hendrix nod “Gerry” is kind of tame and the overdriven, overrun “Take It and Break It”), those are easy enough to forget when they’re only laced as they are between the gems on The Deaner Album.
“So how does The Deaner Album stack up in the end,” you plead? Here it is made plain for readers: The Deaner Album is an unbelievably good album. It is easily better than all of the Moist Boyz albums and is also better than Freeman’s debut album, in this critic’s opinion. Further, The Deaner Album makes a great impression because it illustrates how talented and versatile a songwriter Melchiondo really is, and how instrumental that talent was to Ween’s work; a fact which had been rendered a little unclear until now. It is for all of those reasons that listeners in general and Ween fans in specific will be won by The Deaner Album. This release is not to be missed.
Favourite Album-Cover Art of 2016:
David Bowie – Blackstar
Biggest Loss of 2016 (in memoriam)
The deaths of David Bowie and Leonard Cohen.