Saturday, December 31, 2016

Allyson Dwyer's 2016 End-of-Year List

My triennial friend photo with Allyson

Mah Frond to the Ond

I say this repeatedly, but one of the best things about running CoolDad Music has been the friends I've made over the last (nearly) five years. Allyson Dwyer is not only a valuable contributor here at CoolDad Music -- covering for me when I'm doing things like living it up with George Clooney in Italy -- but she's also one of my dearest friends. We met back when we would both write occasionally for Speak Into My Good Eye and have been buds ever since.

It's always a treat to get Allyson's take at the end of the year as she often opens my eyes to things that I may have missed, whether that be in the form of music I flat out ignored or just special details within some of the stuff I loved myself.

This was a huge year for Allyson in a lot of ways, so we didn't get to hear from her as much as I would have liked. It was definitely a case of quality vs quantity, and she's welcome to contribute here as much or as little as she likes.

So, with all of that out of the way...

Things Allyson Enjoyed in 2016

by Allyson Dwyer

dollys, Low Year

The biggest mistake of my life was sitting on dollys. One day, CoolDad sent me the bandcamp to the collection of dollys completed singles album Low Year, and I don't think an album ever hit me harder than this one. There are a few reasons: I think dollys hit a really specific intersection of melody, composition and lyricism that isn't easy to accomplish or to find. While a lot of bands right now either aren't super focused on sounding highly produced (and that's totally okay), or too produced (also okay) this album finds a perfect balance of both. It's a tightly produced gorgeous album full of simple, short, well-written songs that are also flat-out excellent rock songs, especially live. And I am a huge sucker for perfect pop songs. I also can't talk about Low Year without mentioning the lyrics. Coming out of my own literal low year, there are some lines that are just too real. I still blast this album in my car. I probably listen to it once a week or more. I find new things each time. This is one of my favorites and will be for a long time.

Favorite tracks: "Cornerstones," "How Charming," "Better," "Drive On"

Secret Mountain live

Okay so I'm also a fool again because I waited too long to see or to hear Secret Mountain. I first saw them when they opened for Mitski, and I'll never forget when they started their set with the song "Shift Happens" in which the band does a pretty joyful opening dance together until they all hop up on stage to break into the song. Beyond just being adorable and excellent live, the song was stuck in my head for days and I listened to it on Bandcamp a million times. Now, whenever I see Secret Mountain are playing, I go specifically for them. Their whole album rules, by the way.

Mitski and Mitski's lyrics

Oh my god, what an album Puberty 2 is. It perfectly continues where Bury Me At Makeout Creek left off, but with the development of what is clearly an artist who looks to evolve and share that evolution of creativity with each new album. You can really sense hints of Mitski's music school background with the composition of some songs, and the production on all of them. These simple rock songs are embellished with little moments that, to me, move beyond being just rock songs, and become clear artistic choices by the artist. You can almost hear the vision coming together on this one. And the lyrics are just too good and perfect for this time in my life. Favorite line, from "Happy:" "I was in the bathroom I didn't hear him leave / I locked the door behind him and I turned around to see / All the cookie wrappers and the empty cups of tea / Well I sighed and mumbled to myself again I have to clean."

Favorite tracks: "Happy," "Thursday Girl," "Crack Baby"

Album I'm okay defending: Life of Pablo

Not that it needs much "defending" as I noticed this album basically popped up on most year-end lists anyway. I really like "later" Kanye way better than his earlier poppy / highly produced stuff. I like the industrial, choppy, gothic vibes he has been delving into. This album is a bit of a mess. It's got a lot of ridiculous skits and mini songs and songs that seem like they were never meant to be on the album and gospel and whatever else. But some songs are just good enough to make the album worth it for me, like "Wolves," "Real Friends," and "FML" (a song I find incredibly creepy, and that makes me enjoy it). "Ultralight Beam" is worth it alone for Chance the Rapper's verse. It's a neat continuation of some of the sounds found from Yeezus, which is an album I think he may have a hard time topping for years to come.

Favorite tracks: "Wolves," "Real Friends," "FML," "No More Parties in LA"

Nick Cave, Skeleton Tree

Continuing on the gothic vibes, this album was one on heavy rotation for me. It happened when I heard "Magneto" at random on the radio, and I basically sat there like, "Okay, I absolutely cannot change this." Sometimes I can't explain what music makes me pause, but sometimes it will be the songs that are unpredictable and make me uneasy and I need to know the end. This is an album full of those songs. There has always been a theatricality to the way Nick Cave both delivers and presents his lyrics, and that has drawn me to him, especially on this album. I think we all know by now the story behind the album and why it is so intensely sad. And it would be easy to just praise an album because an artist shares that inner pain, but Nick Cave doesn't give it away so easily. Some songs aren't even exactly sad sounding, but just strangely numb meditations and the process of trauma. It almost feels like a distant companion to Blackstar.

Favorite tracks: "Magneto," "I Need You," "Skeleton Tree"

David Bowie, Blackstar

So it just seems this is the year of albums with dark backstories. This was my favorite album this year, and I measure that because of the number of times I know I listened to it. Which was a lot. As with the Nick Cave album, it's easy to just praise an album for the dark story it represents (and for this album especially, the wildness of it literally coming out before the artist died), but the album is just good, really good. It feels like a real album -- something that you need to listen to start to finish.

The album packaging, the cover. Physically owning it and putting it on adds to that experience. Wrapped up in the true story of this album's release, it feels almost too neat. But there is some very strange, pleasing aesthetic quality to the fact that the artist most known in our time for aesthetic would conclude his own life through a highly curated album release. Listening to this album feels like a big capital Statement. And I don't believe we can ever separate that from the music. It just so happens that the songs are, in fact, excellent. They're a weird, gorgeous mixture of futuristic, apocalyptic, nostalgic and cocky. They feel like far off, distantly related tracks to some of my favorite Bowie albums like Low, Heroes and Station to Station. The lyrics are disjointed and mysterious, and sung between tones of assured-ness and confusion. I don't know of many other albums that I would use this string of adjectives for, and that makes it the best to me.

Favorite tracks: "Lazarus," "Dollar Days," "I Can't Give Everything Away"

Japanese Breakfast, Psychopomp

This was one of albums that I first heard when it started playing in my car; and, as I was driving, a big smile came on my face because I knew I was going to love this album. In a year full of albums about mourning, both big and small, Pyschopomp felt the most like an album about coping through traditionally structured pop songs. Which is why smiling felt so weird once I really knew the "inspiration" behind this album. The album is mostly short, catchy, dreamy shoegaze tracks that tread a fine line between happiness and anxiety, but they're so catchy and addictive to listen to as well. My favorite, of course, is the darkest sounding track, "Jane Cum."

Favorite tracks: "In Heaven," "The Woman That Loves You," "Jane Cum," "Heft"

A Tribe Called Quest, We Got It From Here...Thank You 4 Your Service

Another strangely historic album that involves mourning: the loss of Phife Dawg, and the election of a demagogue as our president. The timing of this album could not have been more cathartic or therapeutic for me. "We The People" is the anthem of this year, and I would say going into 2017 as well. The album has a lot of perfectly selected contributors and collaborations, with appearances by Elton John, Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, Andre 3000, Jack White, and even samples of Gene Wilder in his iconic role of Willy Wonka. The production of this album is a perfect reminder of the power of hip hop and its ability to blend influences to create new meanings and push the possibilities of music itself. It's fitting that the return of an iconic band comes at such a turbulent time, like a swift reminder that the fight was never really done and that we should not feel comfortable or complacent, especially now in the face of a very uncertain future.

Favorite tracks: "We The People," "Solid Wall of Sound," "Dis Generation," "The Killing Season," "Conrad Tokyo"

Basically the best music video movie/album combo and only album I bought on iTunes this year: Beyoncé, Lemonade

My list is full of already hyped albums. Oh well. Lemonade deserved the praise it got. For someone so polarizing, there is no other artist (mainstream or indie) who is releasing entire music video films. And not just films, but actual conversational, complex pieces. Beyoncé is making actual political art. Lemonade is like a stream-of-conscious poem that addresses racial tension in America (especially in the South), black female empowerment and disenfranchisement (both in terms of personal relationships and in relation to American history and our history of slavery. I challenge you to replace any song about her relationship to her husband with her relation to our country), and the act of empowering oneself through that disenfranchisement. It's purely a statement of being a black woman in the USA, and it's informative to its audience in a way that informs and elevates conversations. You think I sound stupid because she's just a "manufactured pop star;" but, again I ask, who else is risking that same commercial success to make these statements?

Favorite tracks: "Hold Up," "Sorry," "Don't Hurt Yourself," "Formation"

2016: The Year I re-discovered YMO and Yukihiro Takahashi

Okay, and finally, little aside here. Beyond new music, this was the year I re-discovered Yellow Magic Orchestra and also the solo works of drummer Yukihiro Takahashi. I was absolutely obsessed with Ryuichi Sakamoto (keyboardist and arranger of YMO) in high school (I was a very odd kid). I was vaguely familiar with his first band, YMO, but I guess they never clicked with me until this year. All three band members have influential, vibrant solo careers that spawn decades upon decades of exciting material. I seemed to naturally zero in on Yukihiro Takahashi, and his gorgeous mixture of synthpop, experimental electronic music, and off-beat singing. While I don't think many people share my current obsession, I figured it was worth a mention because this music meant so much to me. I highly recommend his albums Neuromantic, What Me Worry? and Murdered by the Music.

So, yeah. My favorite song I listened to this year that I probably listened to 10,000 times:

Thank you to CoolDad for being a dear friend of 3 years as of now and for letting me use his blog to rant about what sticks out to me musically. I hope to get out and hear way more music than I did this year. Hopefully, if I don't just re-listen to the same stuff over and over...

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