Best albums of the year 2016: Mike Usinger

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      When I wasn’t desperately searching the Interweb for Taylor Swift’s maddeningly elusive cover of Drake’s “Jumpman”, I had the following albums in heavy rotation on my iPod 160GB Classic.

      On an unrelated note, thank you, Keith Richards, for not adding to the body count this year.


      Mitski — Puberty 2

      Conventional thinking says that no form of pop music is more sadly stagnant than guitar-based rock ’n’ roll. Just when it seemed impossible to disagree, along came the grippingly confessional Puberty 2, where Mitski Miyawaki’s distortion-glazed alt-pop songs kiss you softly on the forehead one minute and floor you the next.


      You Won’t — Revolutionaries

      Balancing wide-eyed winsomeness with admirable adventurism, You Won’t gallops all over the musical map, crafting badlands death ballads, bagpipes-over-Baghdad folk jams, and road-trip sing-alongs. Josh Arnoudse (vocals and guitar) and Raky Sastri (singing saw, electric bagpipes, whirly tube, and kitchen sink) do indeed come on as revolutionaries, taking one of rock’s most limited formats—the two-piece—and dragging it places the Black Keys and White Stripes never dreamed of.


      Japanese Breakfast — Psychopomp

      Sometimes the only way to deal with devastating tragedy is to turn it into something beautiful, and Japanese Breakfast’s Michelle Zauner does exactly that on the gorgeously dream-hazed Psychopomp. With soft-focus drum loops and gauzy synths, the former indie rocker pays tribute to a mom who was claimed by cancer, while, in the larger picture, reminding us that the pain one day fades but the good memories don’t.


      The Gotobeds — Blood // Sugar // Secs // Traffic

      Just when you’re convinced punk is finally dead, the Gotobeds suggest otherwise with a record blending fast-and-loud with unrefined grunge and gold-soundz college rock. The greatest thing about Blood // Sugar // Secs // Traffic is that it’s as smart-assed as its title suggests, with singer Eli Kasan dropping lyrical references to Sonic Youth and spitting out lines like “Fuck Rolling Stone, that trash rag.”


      Shovels & Rope — Little Seeds

      Here’s something Shovels & Rope’s Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst learned after unexpectedly getting pregnant: having a kid is a delicious hell nothing can prepare you for. The husband-and-wife team coped with the insanity by making their loudest record to date, Little Seeds, injecting their trademark gutbucket country with a strain of distortion ripped right from the gospel according to the Jesus and Mary Chain.


      Savages — Adore Life

      Scrape away the grime, grunge, and postpunk blackness and you get one of the most strangely uplifting records of the year. Despite the way Savages projects an image darker than a morgue at midnight, love and its many complexities are at the core of an album that makes a very good case that singer Jehnny Beth and her bandmates really do, despite popular perception, adore life.


      Parquet Courts — Human Performance

      Inspired by the challenge of making art in a New York that’s becoming too expensive for underground artists, transplanted Texas indie rockers Parquet Courts pay multilayered tribute to the city that never sleeps. Caffeine-buzz punk, country-fried lounge, and pile-driving math rock combine for one of the greatest Big Apple–fixated outings since Lou Reed’s New York.


      Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds — Skeleton Tree

      Predictably, the shadow of loss hangs heavy over Skeleton Tree, revisionist history casting the record as Nick Cave’s response to the horror of his teenage son’s death in 2015. While that’s not entirely accurate—the songs actually predate the tragedy—there’s no disputing the alt-rock forefather has rarely sounded so melancholy, his haunting soundscapesa mix of blinding beauty and impossible despair.


      Black Mountain — IV

      The most consistently killer band ever to call Vancouver home returns six years after its last full-length, Wilderness Heart, sounding dangerously recharged and refocused. The guitars are still heavier than a Lebanese hash high, but it’s keyboardist Jeremy Schmidt who really steps up this time on epics that draw on everything from scuzzed-out new wave to bong-king prog.


      Carseat Headrest — Teens of Denial

      Calling Carseat Headrest an overnight sensation doesn’t quite work, considering 24-year-old Will Toledo has released 10 full-lengths and a couple of EPs over his career. The double-fuzzed Teens of Denial is where the once-unsure-of-himself introvert transforms into a with-a-bullet force, the singer abandoning the reverb-soaked DIY of past outings for a punched-up sound that suggests he’s ready to be indie rock’s newest antihero.