The best of 2016 (according to Art As Catharsis artists) — Part 1

We asked Art As Catharsis artists for their top 3 releases of year. Read Part 2 here.

Matt Harvey of We Lost The Sea © Kim Rose

Matt Harvey (We Lost The Sea)

The Dillinger Escape Plan — Disassociation

I’ve loved this band as long as I can remember. I’ve seen them live multiple times in multiple countries. My favourite show was upstairs at the Barfly in London where they squashed 200 people into an 80 cap room. The first thing Greg did when they started was jump and grab the air conditioner and then it’s lid gave way and he and it fell into the crowd, covered in dust. I threw a tin of beer at the roof as the room erupted. Fucking intense, every single time they played, without falter. It wasn’t until they announced their last ever record that I realised that they have to be in my top 10 bands of all time. This band represents so much that I love and believe in about bands and live music. Passionate, uncompromising, hard working and intense. I think they’ve defied everything people have known about extreme music and the fact that they have the understanding, talent and taste to go out on a high with possibly one of their best records makes them even more awesome. This band has thrown everything that had left at this record, and it has all worked. Ben is 40yo and is still throwing himself off stages and balconies, not to mention the machine that is Greg. I totally get and respect their decision to call it a day. They will be sorely missed, and probably untouchable for many years to come.

David Bowie — Blackstar

I’ve never been a huge Bowie fan, I don’t pretend to be. It’s not because I don’t like his work, it’s just never been something that I’ve latched onto. I guess it’s a generational thing? Maybe not. I do know that he’s been a massive influence on so many artists, not just musicians, over the decades of his life and career that he is an undeniable musical figure head of our generation. I think that for an artists who knows they are dying, to then create their last ever project based around their own mortality and eventual death is one of the most inspiring, chilling, facinating and humbling thing you could do. The fact that it came out 2 days before his death is some great (sad) serendipity, timing and marketing! He left us with a fantastic layered, modern, melancholy, reflective and poignant album full of rich sounds and hidden secrets with influences ranging from Radiohead to Portishead and classic Bowie back catalogue. This would have to be the album of the year even if you hated him. The power of this record is undeniable.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds — Skeleton Tree

This album, as we know, comes after the tragic death of his son and was almost re-written after the event to reflect the feelings and mood of the time. I went to see the film based on the making of this record ‘One More Time With Feeling’ at the premiere at the Opera Quays Dendy with my partner. We both came out of it in tears. I think Nick Cave struggles to let the walls down a lot of the time. He’s too afraid of not being The Nick Cave, to actually be honest with himself. I think in the film, and the album, honesty happens in moments and he becomes a human like the rest of us. This is what makes the record special. There was a line he said in the film where he was standing in the line at the bakery in Brighton and someone came up to him and touched his arm and said something like “we’re thinking of you, Nick, it will be alright” and that was the thing that broke him.

Musically speaking, this is the soundtrack to those feelings and The Badseeds are really restrained on this record to the point of almost not playing and letting Nick stalk the piano while he tries to mourn. Warren Ellis conducts the strings section like a possessed priest and ‘holds it all together’ as Nick mentions at one point. This record is haunting as is it is sad and powerful. Top 3 albums of the year easily.

Brendan Sloan of Dumbsaint © Theresa Pham

Brendan Sloan (Dumbsaint)

half/cut — Ecco Locale

Less is more, except for delays, in which case add more repeats. Every element of this record is perfectly balanced and matched. Nobody is stepping on anyone else. Cam and Nick are busy, James and Ben mostly aren’t, and Jessie drifts over the top of it all like a cloud. It’s understated, deceptively complicated, and just generally wonderful.

clipping. — Splendor & Misery

Been following since the noisy face-punch of a debut, and while this is not the direction I expected them to go, there’s nothing else like it. Kubrick-esque intergalactic slaveship artificial intelligence romance beat poetry noise rap? Completely smashing the boundaries of what can be classified Hip-Hop. Light years beyond anything else this year, for me. Yes, even Frank Ocean (sorry Lachlan).

Ulcerate — Shrines Of Paralysis

This band changed how I thought about songwriting (and guitar playing, most of all), and this is the album I’ve wanted since Everything Is Fire tore me to shreds. They’ve learned how to tame the self-indulgent ambience of the last two, fusing it perfectly with the twisting riff salad of Fracture/EIF that I loved so much. Peak level performances from all members, particularly Paul (bass/vocals). Untouchable.

Brian Campeau © Bruce Baker

Brian Campeau

Cass McCombs — Mangy Love

Brilliant and still relatively unknown artist from the states, who has yet to disappoint me with a release. This one just grooves really well from start to finish, and as usual is much more tongue-in-cheek than one would expect after the initial listen.

Gojira — Magma

One of the few bands who have managed to make each album better than the last. This is a much more melodic and dark album than it’s predecessors, and is probably the most cohesive release to date. Really really heavy and serious.

Wartime Sweethearts — So Long Sparta

Refreshing and original take on production. Experimental and ambitious and still remains totally accessible. Bizarre in spots and always heavily melodic.

Chris Allison playing with Fat Guy Wears Mystic Wolf Shirt © ZK Photo

Chris Allison (Instrumental (adj.), Fat Guy Wears Mystic Wolf Shirt, and Kurushimi)

David Bowie — Blackstar

He was always searching for new frontiers, new sounds and his final frontier came to him via the Donny McCaslin Quartet — one of my favourite jazz groups going around. A forward-thinking, dark and brilliant album and final statement from a legend.

Animals As Leaders — The Madness of Many

Rhythmically adventurous + less metal + drums that actually sound like drums = their best work to date.

Esperanza Spalding — Emily’s D+Evolution

It’s disgusting how talented Esperanza is. Incredible bass player, singer and songwriter; a true powerhouse. This album showcases all three of her talents in spades.

Honourable mentions: De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Radiohead, Donny McCaslin, The Bad Plus, Snarky Puppy, Robert Glasper Expirement, Car Bomb, Plini, Hashshashin & Meshuggah.

Louise Nutting of Wartime Sweethearts

Louise Nutting (Wartime Sweethearts)

Solange — A Seat at the Table

Beautiful mood palette — melancholic, serene with a relaxed sensuality. Unusually delicate expressions of anger alongside more trad aggression. She mixes introspection with an outward political gaze so well.

Bree Tranter — Another Night on Earth

Silky, chill and sexy as hell. Head voice for days. The affective states on this album never feel too heavy. Exotica meets impressionistic, chamber indie with occasional lashings of ponderous and libidinous saxophone to the delight of all.

D.D Dumbo — Utopia Defeated

Dense confetti of restless pop. The textural layering and curlicues of guitar are sometimes really nice set over galloping rhythms.

Cameron Macdonald of Hashshashin © Rhiannon Hopley

Cameron Macdonald (Hashshashin)

Neurosis — Fires Within Fires

It’s always a special, world-changing event when Neurosis releases an album. With this year being their 30 year anniversary this album was even more special than usual. I am perhaps biased as I love Neurosis with all my heart, but even still this album, while shorter than anything they have ever done, is super focused and takes us on a sonic and fulfilling journey that has elements of their older work as well as the beauty of their softer side. As with all their albums, this is timeless, will get better with every listen and forms part of the finest catalog of music that mankind will ever know.

Car Bomb — Meta

I was excited for this album. Not sure why, I think I was just excited to have something new and interesting to listen to. I find Car Bomb’s music pretty insane and challenging which is what I generally like in an album and their new one took it to another level, while adding extra refinement and a much more pleasant and less mechanical production than their older stuff. This album kicked my arse and I spend a lot of time listening to it, I find it fulfilling for some reason. Nice one Car Bomb.

Animals As Leaders — The Madness of Many

So I must admit I new to the AAL thing. I had dismissed them as just another djent band, but a year of playing with and listening to the amazing Instrumental (Adj.) had me craving more prog in my life. This lead me to give The Joy of Motion a crack, and it managed to impress the shit out of me. After 2 weeks straight of listening the Madness of Many happened to come out which was pretty fortunate. Is it better? I don’t know yet, but it did come out in 2016 so made this list. Either way, The Madness of Many is chock full of complex and highly advanced song structures and some of the finest technical craftsmanship one could ever hear in a band. These guys are another level and I can’t wait to see them when they come to Sydney next year.

Simon Dawes playing with Instrumental (adj.) © Rhiannon Hopley

Simon Dawes (Instrumental (adj.) and Kurushimi)

I’ve really struggled to keep up with new albums this year and can’t comfortably say that any releases I’ve checked out deserve AOTY status, simply as I know there have been others out there which I have missed.

I will say it’s awesome to have new Car Bomb and the way they built hype around their new album was totally unique. I’ll also add that I miss David Bowie when I dwell on his absence too much.

That said, the last few months have been very healthy for local bands thanks to Wartime Sweethearts (infinite repeat), Scoredatura, Ngaiire, Convulsing, plus Instiez’ very dear pals Hashshashin and Plini (the latter happening to double as the loveliest guy in the world). He finally released his debut album ‘Handmade Cities’ and exploded at an obscene international level, which has been hilarious to witness and makes me very happy.

Lachlan R. Dale plays with Hashshashin © James O’Connor / From The Pit

Lachlan R. Dale (of Art As Catharsis, Hashshashin, Serious Beak, Adrift For Days)

Frank Ocean — Blonde

For me, no other record comes even close. The breadth and depth of emotion expressed is simply unapproachable. On Blonde, Frank Ocean deconstructs hip hop and soul, leaving the elements to float by on an ethereal stream of consciousness. The result is an album that is somehow both fragmented and unified; druggy yet intensely articulate.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds — Skeleton Tree

It would be fair to say this release shares some similarities with Frank Ocean. Skeleton Tree is a psychic mess, brimming with fragility and trauma. In lieu of an clearly articulated structure, the songs swirl and pulse and lurch, almost collapsing under their own weight. It’s a powerful aesthetic achievement that could have easily gone awry.

Radiohead — A Moon Shaped Pool

While hardly ostentatious — or even a departure from their previous work — Radiohead’s latest slowly grew on me. Their attention to detail in both composition and sonic texturing is masterful.

Special mentions to David Bowie, Oranssi Pazuzu, Kendrick Lamar, Animals As Leaders, Tangents, Solange, Julia Jacklin and Inter Arma.

Art As Catharsis is an underground Australian record label focusing on music that is progressive, psychedelic or different.

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