Christian Schneider

Author, Columnist

Category: Music

My Best Albums of 2016

Another year, another list of my favorite albums.  As always, these have been carefully selected through a strict scientific method; now that I have taken the lab coat off and turned off all the Bunsen burners, these are the 10 albums the formula yielded.  It’s just science.

10. Chance the Rapper, “Coloring Book”

All year, friends had been telling me to listen to this album, and I’m really happy I finally gave in.  A groundbreaking album in the “gospel hip-hop” genre, it’s steeped in the optimism America needs right now.

“Summer Friends”

9.  Laura Gibson, “Empire Builder”

My love for Laura Gibson is well documented.  Over a year ago, her New York home burned down, taking many of her valuable instruments with it.  I contributed to the fund to replace her belongings – now I’m just hoping I make her year-end Top 10 list of favorite fanboys.

“Caldera, Oregon”

8.  Mitski, “Puberty II”

This song will make you cry. That is all.

“Your Best American Girl”

7. Thee Oh Sees, “A Weird Exits”

Unapologetic psychedelic rock devoid of nuance.  They manage the rare feat of capturing the frantic energy of their live shows on their recordings.

“Gelatinous Cube”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3nOMKIo_sH0

6. Petal, “Shame”

Catchy guitar-driven pop from singer-songwriter Kiley Lotz of Scranton, PA.  Came out in January of 2016 and remained a lock for my Top 10 all year.

“Heaven”

5. Tribe Called Quest, “We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service”

Tribe has been out of the public spotlight for more than a decade, so it’s not like the public was clamoring for a new album.  But that makes “We got it from Here…” all the more impressive.  They had something to say and came back to say it – it doesn’t feel at all like a cash grab that you see from lesser acts.  Plus, the world needed to hear the late Phife Dawg one last time.

“We the People”

4. Russian Circles, “Guidance”

Instrumental, emotional nerd metal.

“Vorel”

3. Bleached, “Welcome the Worms”

Another stellar guitar-pop album from L.A. based Bleached.  Every song an earworm, front to back.

“Wednesday Night Melody”

2. Avalanches, “Wildflower”

A sprawling album in which each song winds into the next, mixing disco, hip-hop, soul and general silliness.  While not quite as good as the Australian band’s 2000 debut, it’s great to have them back after 16 years.

“Because I’m Me”

1. Radiohead, “A Moon Shaped Pool”

I know, I know – “White Guy in 40’s Likes Radiohead Album” isn’t exactly breaking news.  But the album deserves all the praise heaped on it during the year – it checks all the boxes that make an album great. And the fact that Radiohead is still breaking new ground after two decades makes it all the more remarkable.

“Burn the Witch”

A Musical Interlude

In lieu of actually writing anything, here’s a video from one of my favorite groups, Camera Obscura.

Also, I’m pretty sure this is exactly what living in Europe would be like.  Beard and all.

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Ahhhh, The Simpler Days

Hit the Clem Snide/Heligoats show at the High Noon Saloon last night.  (Photos available here.)  It was, as all Clem Snide shows are, fantastic.

Before the show, my buddy and I were trying to get together a list of friend to invite to the show.  But we ran into a snag.  We have two gay friends who were partners for like a decade, but recently had a pretty bitter split.  From what I understand, they prefer not to be in the same room.  So we could only invite one or the other – but not both.  But which one to choose?  We\’re equally good friends with each of them.

This is a major complication with having gay friends who are dating each other.  If they split, you have to pick favorites.  When you have a guy friend dating a woman, the breakup process is easy.  You just cut the ex-girlfriend out of the social circle and move on.  (As Descartes once said, “Bro’s before ho’s.”)  But when you have two friends of the same sex, it’s impossible to pick one with which to socialize.

Anyway, I know I keep foisting this on you, but it’s my most favoritest song on the new Clem Snide album.  It’s just unspeakably gorgeous:

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And here’s “Movie Guns” by Chris Otepka, who performs as “Heligoats:”

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The Podcast Returns: My Favorite CDs of 2008

Readers of my blog know that my favorite post every year is when I comb back through all my music for the past year and list my favorite CDs.  As always, I don\’t claim to be an expert, so I wouldn\’t presume to name the \”best\” CDs – because there is no such objective thing.

I\’m excited this year to do it in podcast form, since I\’m generally terrible at describing music.  So you can listen for yourself to see if you like any of it – and I think I picked some pretty good stuff.

Joining me on the podcast is my friend Barrett Kilmer, owner (along with his lovely wife J.J.) of Indie Coffee on Regent Street in Madison.  Clearly, the best place in Madison to get an independent cup of coffee, or a sandwich.  (He bought me pizza tonight, so there\’s his plug.)

In any event, have a listen.  (I apologize for the echo – lesson learned not to sit in the same room.)

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(Or you can download the file by right clicking here and choosing \”Save As.\”)

Chris\’ Top 10:

10:  Gentleman Jesse / Introducing Gentleman Jesse

9.  Flight of the Conchords / Flight of the Conchords

8.  Horse Feathers / House With No Name

7.  Fleet Foxes / Fleet Foxes

6.  Dead Confederate / Wrecking Ball

5.  Army Navy / Army Navy

4.  Blind Pilot / 3 Rounds and a Sound

3.  Vampire Weekend / Vampire Weekend

2.  British Sea Power / Do You Like Rock Music?

1.  Bon Iver / For Emma, Forever Ago

Barrett\’s Top 10:

10.  Department of Eagles / In Ear Park

9.  Spiritualized / Songs in A & E

8.  Girl Talk / Feed the Animals

7.  My Morning Jacket / Evil Urges

6.  Explorers Club / Freedom Wind

5.  Okkervil River / The Stand Ins

4.  Blitzen Trapper / Furr

3.  Bon Iver / For Emma, Forever Ago

2.  MGMT / Oracular Spectacular

1.  The Hold Steady / Stay Positive

My Favorite Albums of 2007

As is the case with any reputable hipster wanna-be, I compile a mental list of my top albums throughout the year. Naturally, this list has a shelf life of about a week, until I read everyone else’s list and realize their picks are all better than mine.

As usual, I am a terrible music reviewer, so I’ll write a little blurb about each album on here – but don’t be looking for anything too erudite – I can’t explain why I like certain music, I just do. I’ll leave the reviewing to the professionals.

And here we go….

10. Loney, Dear – Loney Noir

Swede alert! From the PopMatters review: “… the music is delicate, building to momentous peaks and accented by sturdy hooks. The key to these songs are gentle arrangements that build organically from the guitar based centers. Horns, reeds, organs, and careful backing vocals never overpower the songs but are used like curtains around a window.” Sure, I’ll go along with that.

9. Jens Lekman – Night Falls over Kortedala

More Swedes! When first hearing about this album, I thought “Oh, great – another Swedish singer/songwriter.” But I was surprised by how well “Kortedala” blends deadpan humor and chamber pop. Songs like “The Opposite of Hallelujah,” “If I Could Cry (It Would Feel Like This)” and “Your Arms Around Me” are impossible not to hum after the third listening.

8. Los Campesinos! – Sticking Fingers Into Sockets

Impossibly catchy and irrepressibly bratty. Gets knocked down a couple rungs because it’s only a six-song EP (running at 15 minutes), but the songs are strong enough to warrant this effusive of a recommendation.

7. Radiohead – In Rainbows

I can’t agree with my friends who claim that somewhere in this album lies the cure to cancer (or even halitosis), but it is certainly good enough to slide into the Top 10. And trust me, after inadvertently paying 40 bucks for it, I was hoping it would fundamentally change my life in some way. The only really change it made was to rob me of the opportunity to go to Wendy’s a couple more times. “House of Cards” gives me chills.

6. The Broken West – I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On

Normally, my lists have a few albums that are more experimental, with long, sprawling obtuse songs. Not so this year, and The Broken West exemplifies that trend. A strong collection of short, catchy pop songs with a southern rock flavor.

5. Of Montreal – Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?

I don’t dance, yet I can appreciate the booty-shaking appeal of such songs as \”Heimdalsgate Like a Promethean Curse\” and \”A Sentence of Sorts in Kongsvinger\” – two of the best songs of the year, despite sounding as if they were a product of an Abba tribute band. I actually forgot this album came out this year, as one of my friends gave me a bootleg copy in mid-2006. I\’m not sure how that’s relevant in any way.

4. Page France – …And the Family Telephone

The little album that could. This album attempts to correct the scandalous dearth of xylophones in our nation\’s indie albums. With its jangly guitars and heavy use of glockenspiels, it seems that this album could have been made in any basement in America. Of course, the same could be said of meth.

3. Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
It’s the way of things in America – when someone jumps on to the public scene with universal praise (as Arcade Fire did with \”Funeral\” in 2005), it immediately becomes fashionable to be part of the backlash. While derided by much of the horn-rimmed glasses wearing mafia as being inferior to Funeral, this album is perfect from the first note on.

2. LCD Soundsystem – Sounds of Silver
A perfect reminder that electronic music doesn’t have to take itself so seriously. A genre-hopping masterpiece that my kids also enjoy dancing to. So they have that going for them. Which is nice. “Someone Great” is probably my favorite song of the year.

1. Andrew Bird – Armchair Apocrypha
The main test of whether an album can be my best of the year is how hard it was to delete it from my iPod. I couldn’t pry this one out of my playlists with a crowbar. (In fact, iTunes reports to me that my three most listened-to albums this year are all from Andrew Bird.) A perfect blend of experimentation, pop hooks, and obtuse lyrics. And his epic show at the Memorial Union Theater didn’t hurt, either (even though this album was a top three lock even before then).

Some more really good albums from this year:

Band of Horses – Cease to Begin
Bill Callahan – Woke on a Whaleheart
Norfolk & Western – The Unsung Colony
Band of Bees – Octopus
My Teenage Stride – Ears Like Golden Bats
Lily Allen – Alright, Still
Fiery Furnaces – Widow City
The Go! Team – Proof of Youth
Idlewild – Make Another World
Panda Bear – Person Pitch
Rilo Kiley – Under the Blacklight
Shout Out Louds – Our Ill Wills
Voxtrot – Voxtrot
Velvet Revolver – Libertad

Best Albums From Other Years That I Heard This Year:

Figurines – Skeleton
Heartless Bastards – Stairs and Elevators
Fiery Furnaces – Bitter Tea
British Sea Power – The Decline of British Sea Power
Fiona Apple – Extraordinary Machine
Golden Smog – Another Fine Day
Guillemots – From the Cliffs (EP)

Biggest Disappointments:

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Some Loud Thunder
Fountains of Wayne – Traffic and Weather
Iron & Wine – The Shepherd’s Dog
The Shins – Wincing the Night Away

You can check out the Muzzle of Bees top 30 here – there seems to be a reasonable amount of overlap.

Metacritic also has posted their best-reviewed albums of the year here.

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