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Many of the songs on Priests’ full-length debut deal with the individual experiences that are so bad, you end up losing faith in humanity as a whole: “If I walk a hundred days/doesn’t mean I get to say/you can’t talk to me that way,” Katie Alice Greer bemoans of the world. Even her own sense of accomplishment is on the chopping block. But, there’s more to this record than a jaded worldview. Failed relationships have also given Greer confidence, freedom, and a perspective on people that proves a fine narrative accompaniment to the punk rock on Nothing Feels Natural.

Priests balance doom metal and multiple tempos on opener “Appropriate” where Greer speaks of tasting maggots and buying things you can’t afford – coolly subverting the idea of building credit and reminding herself how most of us are actually using credit cards. Although the track has a primal core, it’s ornately produced with squelching saxophones, overdubs, and backburning fuzz from guitarist GL Jaguar.

Sadly, the drumming doesn’t share the chameleonic values of the rest of the arrangement. They’re transparently placed at the center of these songs, and “Nicki” suffers for it with screeching hi-hat opens and dual crash sounds that fight the melody. They’re redeemed on the following “Lelia 20” with a consistency that fits perfectly over the top of other guitar crunches and vocal acrobatics. The track then transitions into a prayer at Greer’s bedside, pleading for more tangible human interaction.

Where Nothing Feels Natural suffers is in the R&D department. Many of the ideas only make a couple of appearances. From surf to shoegaze to punk and back, the album ends with a fadeout on “Suck,” which isn’t just overlong, but showcases Greer’s ugliest songwriting. She can scream, hold long notes, play vulnerable, and play aggressive, so talking about how someone “just sucks” doesn’t hold a candle to the rest of the narrative.

Still, there’s quite a lot to like here, and it’s mostly due to Greer – the speak-sing existentialism of “No Big Bang,” the Everything Goes Wrong-era Vivian Girls homage on “Nothing Feels Natural,” the ragged heartbeat of “Appropriate”… If Priests expand on some of the genres they’re playing with, the tunes could take on a more consistent quality. This is a D.C. band, and that must certainly come with a deeper perspective than the ones at play. Asking Priests to tackle more subjects might be shooting the argument in the foot. But chewing out the fat is always important in constructing a record, leaving a blanker canvass with which to paint a real bounty of emotional responses.

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1. Deakin : Sleep Cycle
Nothing is too complex. Everything can be worked through by breathing slowly. Spit out that rage. Breathe out all that shame. Even peaceful moments can contain anger. Even moments of chaos can contain catharsis.

Here are six songs that are only interested in solutions to problems. You’ll hear the voices of Animal Collective’s most lucid work and Bjork’s most life-affirming akin to “All Is Full of Love.” “Just Am” is the sound of growing up that Deakin was absent from during the Merriweather Post Pavilion hubbub. It’s wonderful to see the oft-neglected member of a band churn out their best song of the current decade (“Wide Eyed”) and release an album that coolly places itself among other AnCo greats like Down There and Sung Tongs.

2. Radiohead : A Moon Shaped Pool
King of Limbs left a lot of Radiohead fans in a jaded way (myself not included). Thom Yorke had retreated into himself, and we had to follow him for a long time before reaching listener/artist dialogue. He’s opposite of that on AMSP; slowly approaching his listeners with eyes and heart wide open.

The members of this band are around 50 years old, so there are few rock and roll tricks save the gnarled guitars on “Identikit” (a frighteningly sharp culmination of everything post-Wallace) and the reverse-beat antics on “Ful Stop.” What we have instead is periods of fussy emotionalism like the pianos before the flood on “Decks Dark.” The pristine production is advanced by the question of Yorke’s subjects: Is he speaking to himself or speaking to all of us?

3. Kendrick Lamar : untitled unmastered.
An album simultaneously about nothing and everything. From the head-scratching pigeonhole-logic of #3 to the prescience of #1 (as prefaced by 80 seconds of soft core porn audio), it’s incredible that these beats and ideas didn’t make it onto To Pimp a Butterfly. What could it have been like to produce a track with Cee-Lo and subsequently be like “yeah, okay we’ll use this later.”

uu is only unmastered in its lack of a consistent thread, but even TPAB required an album length poem for guidance. This has none, but is almost its equal in terms of scope and variety. Kendrick shares bars with nobody, and refuses to make 8 “unrelated” tracks anything less than the best rap of the year.

4. David Bowie : Blackstar
Bowie and Visconti gave us everything Bowie’s best albums have always possessed: fantastic employment of dozens of instruments, forward-thinking poetry and imagery, and placement of Bowie’s voice at the center; never once becoming grating or tired despite knocking at death’s door. We have a new, more powerful synonym for swan song.

5. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds : Skeleton Tree
Cave needs to cope, and he does so here by projecting his music across the rings of Saturn, into the mist rolling off the sea, and into a bathroom mirror; vomit, blood and someone else’s diseases on display. Grieving doesn’t limit itself to places in a house or on a map. You recognize the person in the mirror although the person on the inside has been overhauled, and mundane tasks like standing in the supermarket queue become new and confusing. “Maybe I’m just too tongue tied to drink it up and swallow back the pain,” Cave sings on ‘Rings of Saturn’, where we catch him attempting normalcy with his loss painted across his face; which looks older and less familiar than it did before July of last year. In this way, death also transcends people and places, ultimately fucking with time itself.

6. Jenny Hval : Blood Bitch
Where does Jenny Hval find her strength? In some ways, she revels in her “bad art and failure” as Patrick Stickles might. In others, she celebrates it with details finer than Vespertine-era Bjork – from blunt concessions turned heartfelt comforts like taking birth control with rosé and finding connectedness at the gynecologist.

7. PJ Harvey : The Hope Six Demolition Project
Apart from “A Line In The Sand,” there aren’t many solutions offered to the world problems presented on Hope Six. Polly Jean Harvey is more of a witness: There’s a Department of Homeland Security base being built over an old hospital. There’s a wall in Kosovo with thousands of pictures of missing persons. There’s a woman in a slum saving her neighbors keys although they most certainly won’t be returning.
Listeners are left to fill in the gaps of past conflicts that brought these locations to such destruction. Her only guide is “The Orange Monkey” who insists that traveling and studying history is the path to understanding. She’s made such journeys for us, and brought a scrappy, saxophone-adoring, controversial piece of art back to England. It’s a shame some of these tracks aren’t longer.

8. Kevin Morby : Singing Saw
This is the easiest and most inviting record of the year. Singing Saw’s themes are ones anybody can relate to: leaving home on “Destroyer,” contemplating death on “Singing Saw,” and celebrating the good times in conjunction with the bad on “Dorothy.”

9. Nonkeen : The Gamble/Oddments of the Gamble
Three German children find a common interest in found sounds and improvisation in 1989. They perform some of them, but disband after an accident in 1997. Well into their twenties, they reconvene, reconfigure their rudimentary 4-track samples, and compile dozens of tracks that capture ambient, krautrock, and electronic music. Listen to these records when you’re feeling contemplative, when you’re feeling smart, and when you’re feeling like producing something worthwhile of your own. Another knockout by Nils Frahm, modern classical music’s finest product.

10. Frank Ocean : Blonde
All Frank Ocean has retained since channel ORANGE is his voice, thereby subverting his classification as an R&B artist. Blonde is a record that shaped Ocean’s queerness into a relatable palette of American excess; as told through the lens of often beat-less ambient structures. Blonde contains everything Justin Vernon has sought in his folding over of rap and folk, but pierces the heart more directly. No chipmunk voice is underutilized, no guitar lick is overwhelming, and no bassline is less than tasteful.

11. Jessy Lanza : Oh No
Pop music of the eighties and nineties compressed into an album that glitters like a diamond in pure emotional beauty.

12. Kanye West : The Life of Pablo
A garrulous, overproduced, and often despicable piece of modern art. Look a little closer at the cracks between the sentiment and you’ll find that West is still our generation’s finest curator of his genre.

13. Fog : For Good
The total picture of anxiety on a daily basis. Through rush hour traffic, concerns about taking lunch, buildings on fire, and unexpected sex in Minneapolis suburbs, Andrew Broder has the grit and gumption to remind us how love keeps on trying to win our lives over.

14. Ty Segall : Emotional Mugger
A no holds barred rock and roll affair. Segall brings his studio know-how and punk scrappiness together in ways his previous albums have only attempted.

15. The Body : No One Deserves Happiness
Where 2014’s I Shall Die Here had us staring darkly into the void, No One Deserves Happiness has us reveling in it. Typically The Body have taken a longview of metal, industrial, and noise. Here, they dive headlong into it over the most visceral instrumentals of 2016; complete with Chip King’s trademark howls and a stellar list of guest vocalists.

16. A Tribe Called Quest : We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service
Impossible to put to words. Tribe covered it all.

17. Tim Hecker : Love Streams
An icy wormhole of all music from Mozart to Eno. All of it.

18. The Drones : Feelin Kinda Free
“To Think That I Once Loved You” is the most brooding track of the year, whereas “Taman Shud” casts a “fuck off” huge enough to impress even Sleaford Mods.

19. Islands : Should I Remain Here At Sea?
The unnatural successor to 2006’s Return to the Sea, which is perhaps the finest album of its year.

20. Fat White Family : Songs For Our Mothers
Drug-addled, college-educated, formerly homeless history and fine art buffs making pristine pop culture satire.

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The saxophone is the most recognizable of band instruments. In 2011, Bon Iver’s and Destroyer’s records showcased its uses to millennials. In 2016, it’s grown darker and more jaded in the independent music spectrum. The saxophone takes a song like “The Governor” and turns what could be a dancefloor cut into something decaying and glaring. Stack Nicholas Jaar’s disorienting piano loops on top, and we have something that dodges electronic music precedent in a handful of ways.

The saxophone isn’t the only acoustic instrument revered on Jaar’s Sirens, his first proper rollout since 2011’s mind-bending Space Is Only Noise. There’s reggaeton pop with full auxiliary percussion on “No.” Sung in Spanish, the track references the 1988 election to keep late dictator Augusto Pinochet in office for another 8 years. Leftists and artists subverted a negative word into a positive message that underlies much of Sirens and Jaar’s family history. It’s all kept in peaceful balance with a child’s voice and satisfying lute strums that complement a 21st century hope for Chile.

Seldom does an electronic album open up its doors so quickly. These songs go from divisive to palatable, opener “Killing Time” waiting a full minute before birthing a musical sound: a glass vase falls off a table and reconstructs itself before introducing the gloomiest pianos this side of A Moon Shaped Pool. Funnily, the only sad part is that it ends after eleven minutes.

“Three Sides of Nazareth” has propulsion like a revving engine, but breaks itself up elegantly across its ten minutes with a bridge of white noise and paranoid vocal blips. Following is “History Lesson”, which has romantic and soft words akin to Avey Tare. It’s the doo-wop pillow talk track that Kevin Parker has dreamed of in his penchant for attempting to do psychedelic love as well as The Beatles. Even when Jaar says “we fucked up” about a certain part of his relationship, he does so with a long view that ensures his subject that he’s thankful for shared moments despite relational hiccups. Seven chapters of this tale go by in whimsical summation even though it all ends before the four minute mark. Nailing down Jaar’s thoughts is easiest here, and it’s a lesson to the listener on accepting the impressionistic glow of many of the albums words.

“The Governor” opens with two utterances of the word “deicide” before Jaar begins singing about what could be commentary on the club, politics, or the end of civilization as Jaar imagines it. This is a choose-your-own-adventure lyric sheet, as guided by the mantra of an “automatic dial” that sets off unnamed alarms before a saxophone solo cuts through and reinforces the tension of Sirens’ undertones.

But don’t let the fact that Jaar sings throughout the whole album, a first for him, tell you that this is pop music. Sirens remains something immeasurable in terms of style, genre, songwriting, and overall production. Where Space Is Only Noise and side project Darkside were mostly musical thinkpieces, Sirens asks questions of society that develop in cohesion through repeat listens. Is a point trying to be made here, or is it all just building up to a romantic (or political) climax on “History Lesson?”

Though Jaar’s music bears significant resemblance to the prolific natures of Trent Reznor, Brian Eno, or Kieran Hebden, these are merely devices with which we can begin to piece together his pallet. Sirens runs swimmingly from track to track, and it’s ideal to consume it without a tracklist; listening as its samples, beats, and voices travel without a map or a compass. It’s clear Jaar wanted to do something similar to what the average listener considers to be an “album”, but making a strong case for his intentions takes patience. Contrary to pop music and accessibility at large, it works well in his favor.

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What happens when a particular event dismantles the patterns of emotional response that come with age? One might take the long view like 2013’s Push the Sky Away, where Nick Cave and company told a tale of humanity’s ever present history as told by Wikipedia and Miley Cyrus. “I used to know how I would react to things,” says Cave in One More Time with Feeling, the second Bad Seeds documentary in as many years. The death enveloping Skeleton Tree doesn’t get in the way of his limitless sense of emotional elaboration.

But Cave needs to cope, and he does so here by projecting his music across the rings of Saturn, into the mist rolling off the sea, and into a bathroom mirror; vomit, blood and someone else’s diseases on display. Grieving doesn’t limit itself to places in a house or on a map. You recognize the person in the bathroom mirror although the person on the inside has been overhauled, and mundane tasks like standing in the supermarket queue become new and confusing. “Maybe I’m just too tongue tied to drink it up and swallow back the pain,” Cave sings on “Rings of Saturn” where we catch him attempting normalcy with his loss painted across his face; which looks older and less familiar than it did before July of last year.

In this way, death also transcends people and places, ultimately fucking with time itself. Slide Bad Seeds cuts like 1997’s “Into My Arms” into the tracklist, and they breathe (or, in this case, “bleed”) new tenderness into the album’s portents. On “Girl in Amber,” we hear about 1984, the year the band debuted with From Her to Eternity. Cave’s wife Susie Bick is this eternity, and he’s giving her space for her equivalent grief. If Cave has changed his mind about his belief in an interventionist god, now’s the time he may need its help.

The farthest time’s icy hand gets from death is on “Anthrocene,” where Cave guides us, also in outer space, in search for new love. Drums sputter across formless piano chords and sonic errata. Angelic voices respond to Cave, who’s finding it “hard to believe that we’re falling now in the name of the Anthrocene;” a play on the word “Anthropocene,” humanity’s current geological period which has been fantastically reformed to fit Cave’s notions of life, love, and loss. It’s a follow up to Push the Sky Away’s “Higgs Boson Blues,” where the volume of available information coalesces into a humorous void of beauty and near nihilism.

The elastic snaps back to the present on the following “I Need You,” where the album’s most concentrated prose is found: “You’re still in me, baby/I need you/Cause nothing really matters/when the one you love is gone.” Multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis balances looped space with thick gothic tones, making it hard to know exactly where the chorus fits in. The rest is ornately arranged – piano, vibraphone, bass, acoustic guitar, drums, and a commanding vocal that repeats itself in pained transcendence: “Nothing really matters” becoming a greater mantra of devotion than the sum of its words.

Skeleton Tree ends with fewer lyrics and abstractions on the peaceful “Distant Sky”, which suggests that there are still places to go and horizons to explore with your remaining family. Whether “down there” with the hard blues of “Magneto” or “on the edge” of a dark force on “Anthrocene,” Cave’s distant sky remains attainable despite the deceit he feels in the lies he’s been told about the afterlife of his child. But he still rises on Sunday morning on the closing track, and has the gumption to claim that “It’s alright now.” Whether we want to explore grief or learn to live with it, Skeleton Tree provides a sagacious guidebook.

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The Body’s tortured album titles usually force a laugh or two. There’s hardly another way to cope with their mixture of progressive doom and power electronics. At this point, it’s obvious that the Portlanders have been doing something right. Their discography wouldn’t flourish without at least a handful of people giving albums like You, Whom I Have Always Hated and All the Waters of the Earth Turn to Blood a try. Thankfully for 2016 inductees, No One Deserves Happiness is the most digestible of the band’s work, but is hardly the least pulverizing.

The placement of The Body in the casual listener queue comes with a few changes. These songs are shorter than those on 2014’s disaster playground I Shall Die Here, an album that forced heads into black water and only let up after they’d taken a good hard look at what lies beneath. Singer/guitarist Chip King has said as much, hailing Happiness as the “grossest pop record of all time.” It’s a fitting description amidst the inclusion of collaborators Chrissy Wolpert and Maralie Armstrong singing leads on all but two songs. They soften the blows of Lee Buford’s analog/digital drum attack, often acting as sole representatives of the upper half of the frequency range.

Past albums have placed King’s shrieks, comparable to those of women and children, in the center of a well-established void. Now, his vocals are even more background. On “Starving Deserter,” gongs ring out in Black Sabbath glory during a meditative section that could go on forever, but instead clears for a soulful vocal. Although it’s definitely The Body we’re hearing, Happiness resolves to pop structure and concision as King’s appraisal suggests. “For You” is the finest bottling of the old and new. First half grimy growl, second half hardcore punk blitzkrieg, it never fails to clean the palette after single “Shelter Is Illusory” curses the world with a fury comparable to early nineties Trent Reznor.

Many songs retain the sprawl of doom metal’s core. “Hallow/Hollow” gives many a patient crash and snare before horns and King’s vocals herald a fitting, yet redundant announcement of “the night has no dawn.” “Shelter” is the total package of electronic metal, and “Two Snakes” follows suit with a vocal cap that impressively transcends even more genres. Closer “The Myth Arc” pushes the trudging instrumental aside to reveal a gorgeous chant bereft of King’s squeal, paving the way for Wolpert’s hopeful pronunciation of “I will find you” until the album comes to a peaceful ending.

The Body are the abyss perpetually staring back at their listeners. Unlocking these elements takes considerable work, whereas other releases have ironically made this process easier with layers of low end fog that enter the mix at a more balanced pace. The existential exhaustion of an album called No One Deserves Happiness is easier to trudge through in its tightly wrapped presentation, although it suffers from a lack of contentment at its end despite the efforts of “The Myth Arc.” Conversely, I Shall Die Here was an empowering release that reinvigorated listeners who managed to crawl their way to the light at the end of its tunnel. However, Happiness is not “hard” and I Shall Die Here is certainly not “easy.” The Body gracefully don’t try to solve the zeitgeist of human suffering one way or the other, but they surely have retained their expert status at describing its pitfalls.

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