ARE YOU LIS­TEN­ING? TOP 10 OVER­LOOKED AL­BUMS OF 2016

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Dylan Owens

We know: That Bey­oncé al­bum was in­cred­i­ble. Yeah, just like the life of Kanye, “The Life of Pablo” was weird and cap­ti­vat­ing. And that Ra­dio­head LP? We shed enough tears to fill “A Moon Shaped Pool” of our own. The fact is, if you’re read­ing this, odds are you’ve al­ready seen dozens of other best-al­bum lists this year. We fig­ured, in a sea­son of giv­ing, it’s bet­ter to share the wealth than pile on the pop­u­lar kids. Be­low, dig into 10 of 2016’s un­justly over­looked al­bums.

Pine­grove, “Car­di­nal”

For all those of us who har­bor a se­cret love of emo the angsty, ver­bose style of mu­sic fa­vored by sub­ur­ban mid­dle/high school­ers coun­try-wide circa the early aughts New Jersey’s Pine­grove is an ex­cit­ing prospect. The octet has repack­aged the genre’s hall­mark squeal­ing vo­cals, self-in­ter­ro­ga­tion and crush­ing riffs for the quar­ter­life crowd. “Car­di­nal,” its sopho­more effort, is a near-per­fect ex­e­cu­tion of that, and a heck of a lot smarter than any of this year’s other rock al­bums. Front­man Evan Stephens Hall some­how man­ages to be con­ver­sa­tional in an al­bum about how hard it is to com­mu­ni­cate: “I’d pace around the place so quiet in my­self / I’d wake the next and see my si­lence went un­felt,” he sings on stand­out track “Apha­sia.” For the sake of that: The al­bum is re­ally good. Enough said.

John Prine, “For Bet­ter, or Worse”

Bob Dylan might have pulled down the No­bel Prize this year, but John Prine — who Dylan counts as an in­flu­ence — will al­ways be the peo­ple’s song­writ­ing champ. On “For Bet­ter, or Worse,” his lat­est, he takes from the song­books of his men­tors, re-imag­in­ing them via duets with fe­male singers that gussy up Prine’s crum­bling voice. For fans of “In Spite Of Our­selves,” his 1996 al­bum in the same vein, this one’s a no brainer. Iris DeMent sang that al­bum’s stand-out tit­u­lar song, and she returns to help Prine take on the coun­try-west­ern “Who’s Gonna Take the Garbage Out,” a bick­er­ing duet be­tween iras­ci­ble lovers that was first pop­u­lar­ized by Loretta Lynn and Ernest Tubb. Be­yond DeMent, Prine gath­ers a smartly cu­rated batch of fe­male singers from yes­ter­day and tomorrow. Su­san Tedeschi puts her sear­ing vox to Ge­orge Jones’ “Color of the Blues”; On “Men­tal Cru­elty,” he

wisely taps rising coun­try singer Kacey Mus­graves, who’ll join him on tour in 2017.

No­name, “Tele­fone”

There’s a lot of Chance the Rap­per in “Tele­fone,” MC Fa­timah Warner’s de­but as No­name. That makes sense: They’re in the same circle of Chicago mu­si­cians that swirl funk, gospel and hiphop into hy­per-aware rhythm po­etry. But through fa­mil­iar horn stabs and march­ing-band rhythms, Warner is her own artist, with a poetic sen­si­bil­ity that eclipses most rap­pers her age. She lets her in­ner child take the pen — “un­ortho­dox para­dox in a pair of Doc’s,” she raps on “All I Need” — as of­ten as the wise ma­tri­arch on her shoul­der. “When I re­mem­ber mem­o­ries don’t last for­ever / When I deny my empty with an open let­ter / Who gon’ re­mem­ber me? / My satel­lite, my em­pa­thy,” she sings on “Yes­ter­day.” With no use for a name, she sets her fo­cus on her art, a worth­while ven­ture by any yard­stick.

Band of Horses, “Why Are You OK”

Band of Horses is what hap­pens when a band stays on course in­stead of try­ing out a wildly new di­rec­tion — a de­ci­sion that usu­ally alien­ates its fan­base. “Why Are You OK” is merely a vari­a­tion on the emo­tive stomp-a-longs that the al­tAmer­i­cana rock out­fit has been putting out for the last 12 years, and that’s more than all right. The band has cut a niche for it­self that few oth­ers can claim: The drunk punk with the heart of gold, up one day and down the next, but al­ways worth your time. Here, that ma­te­ri­al­izes in songs that weigh emo­tional dam­age con­trol (“Hag”) and the value and harm of a crit­i­cal voice al­ways bark­ing in your ear (“Solemn Oath”).

Michael Nau, “Mow­ing”

Solo de­buts can be tricky business, but fans of Michael Nau’s since-re­tired project Cot­ton Jones can take heart with “Mow­ing.” As on past projects, melody is the Mary­lan­der’s strong suit here. With just his voice and a six string, “While You Stand” buoys with sim­ple res­o­nant beauty, in­vok­ing his re­la­tion to the moun­tains, ocean and night sky as a pre­cious few con­stants in an ever-evolv­ing life. Pi­geon­holed as he may be by his folk roots, “Mow­ing” ex­plores more than just his Ap­palachian trap­pings. Wife Whit­ney McGraw joins in for songs like “Mar­alou,” a down-tempo tiki lounge fox­trot tacked up by shim­mer­ing synths. The al­bum doesn’t reach for any­thing too far out­side of its in­diepop wheel­house, which is prob­a­bly why it flew un­der the radar. But if you’re look­ing for an al­bum to keep you com­pany on a lonely win­ter drive, look no fur­ther than this di­gestible-yet-dis­tinct folk al­bum.

Weyes Blood, “Front Row Seat to Earth”

Was there an al­bum re­leased this year with a more loaded ti­tle than Weyes Blood’s “Front Row Seat to Earth”? The al­bum is ef­fec­tively a modern med­i­ta­tion in an emer­gency, when end of days — be it a per­sonal (“Diary”) or so­ci­etal one (“Gen­er­a­tion Why”) — comes in the fear of los­ing the per­son that de­fines you, or the bliss of know­ing there’s noth­ing you can do to stop it. Weyes Blood (real name: Natalie Mer­ing) is tellingly re­signed in the face of hor­ror, sound­ing like a de­pressed Sha­nia Twain rid­ing side sad­dle on a hy­dro­gen bomb fall­ing to Earth. It’s far from an up­per, in other words, but don’t let that dis­suade you.

J. Cole, “4 Your Eyez Only”

The longer J. Cole’s hair, the bet­ter his mu­sic — or so the the­ory goes. It’s all-but proven on “4 Your Eyez Only,” the rap­per’s best yet. More specif­i­cally, he sounds like Ken­drick La­mar lite, rap­ping about the same great in­jus­tices but with more con­cern for pop value and less of a mind for word­play. “Change,” a high­light, has him on one of the al­bum’s finest beats, be­moan­ing the hor­rors du jour in an at­tempt to ma­te­ri­al­ize some­one — any­one — who can cat­alyze evo­lu­tion. As se­ri­ous as that sounds, the al­bum is as fun as it is frank, like on the in­deli­ble “Foldin Clothes,” which cuts true ro­mance down to its ma­turest essence: “I wanna fold clothes for you!” Mar­i­tal duty never sounded so sexy.

Andy Shauf, “The Party”

Andy Shauf ’s lat­est al­bum sounds like it was written from the lonely cor­ner of the last high school party of se­nior year. Through failed come-ons and awk­ward con­ver­sa­tions, the Saskatchewan na­tive makes you feel for his wob­bly at­tempts to nav­i­gate love, even af­ter you re­al­ize he’s some­thing of a so­cial anti-hero. Over chintzy lounge jams, Shauf writes songs for the gen­er­a­tion weened on Wes An­der­son’s pre­cious aes­thetic — songs that might as well be written about “Rush­more’s” pre­co­cious Max Fis­cher, and could score ev­ery one of An­der­son’s films there­after.

KING, “We Are KING”

KING’s de­but al­bum feeds ’90s R&B through a dis­torted lens. The genre’s sim­mer­ing rhythms drag that much slower at points, its ma­jor keys pitched down al­most im­per­cep­ti­bly. It sounds like a night­mare based on a mem­ory. Else­where, the Los Angeles trio’s modern yet faith­ful re­pro­duc­tion of the genre fur­thers this sense of mis­re­mem­ber­ing. Take sin­gle “The Great­est,” for ex­am­ple, which could fool any­one into think­ing that they’d heard the song blast­ing through the speak­ers of their turquoise Eagle Talon way back when. Nineties nos­tal­gia is on­trend right now, but as Erykah Badu and The Roots’ Quest­love could tell you — the liv­ing R&B leg­ends gave the group their seal of ap­proval early on — KING is sharper than just sen­ti­men­tal taste-mak­ing.

Ni­co­las Jaar, “Sirens”

With “Sirens,” ex­per­i­men­tal Chilean pro­ducer Ni­co­las Jaar has ex­panded on the chilly headspace he pop­u­lar­ized with gui­tarist Dave Har­ring­ton in side­pro­ject Dark­side. One part sound col­lage and one part dance mu­sic cur­ricu­lum — house, techno, South Amer­i­can cumbia and many other styles scrape against one an­other here — “Sirens” is Jaar’s most am­bi­tious al­bum, one as lis­ten­able as it is in­trigu­ing. In­fus­ing songs with dis­qui­et­ing tales of in­jus­tice (“Killing Time”) and a lit­eral (if re­duc­tive) “His­tory Les­son,” the pro­ducer has at­tempted to weaponize dance mu­sic for po­lit­i­cal engagement. A night at the disco al­ready brings peo­ple of farflung back­grounds to­gether in one room, Jaar figures. Why not wring some con­ver­sa­tion out of it? Live or through head­phones, the al­bum suc­ceeds there, and then some.

Pro­vided by Pitch Per­fect PR

Weyes Blood’s “Front Row Seat to Earth” is one of 2016’s best over­looked al­bums..

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