It’s my birthday! I thought I’d give my faithful readers a gift — the gift of obscure music, of course. I don’t only listen to metal, synthwave, and random things on Bandcamp (although, admittedly, that makes up the bulk of my listening). Seeing as I’ve somehow wound up on mailing lists for albums that don’t fall into those two categories, I thought I’d put together a list of things I loved this year that fit outside the narrow confines of what people will pay me to write about.
Bixiga 70 – Quebra Cabeça
Apparently, this year I joined the ranks of music critics who get way into afrobeat. I’m not sure I’m quite at Christgau levels yet, but Bixiga 70’s brassy Afro-Brazilian melange could convince even the most devout skeptic to get up and shake their booty to this vibrant jigsaw puzzle.
Brandon Coleman – Resistance
I’ll be the first to admit I don’t listen to a lot of modern soul/R&B, but someone wants to create an unabashed tribute to late 70s-early 80s electro-funk as popularized by Zapp & Roger and Stevie Wonder? And that person is a frequent collaborator of Kamasi Washington? I am so in.
Randall Dunn – Beloved
It’s possible that a producer who manned the boards for Sunn O))), Tim Hecker, and Six Organs of Admittance wouldn’t make his debut solo release a collection of ambient and avant-garde soundscapes — but also incredibly unlikely. At different times recalling Brian Reitzell’s disturbing score to Hannibal, Peter Murphy-like space-goth, and Tangerine Dream, it’ll hit the spot (as long as the spot is in the middle of a lightless void).
Fotocrime – Principle of Pain
I loved the last couple Coliseum records, when they ditched the (admittedly well-done) hardcore and went for post-punk grandeur. Clearly, that stylistic change caused some musical disagreements, so the band broke up and frontman Ryan Patterson formed his own darkwave group. His first full-length leaves me with no complaints.
Kikagaku Moyo – Masana Temples
If you’re at all a fan of psych rock and haven’t listened to Kikagaku Moyo, start here. The Japanese collective has toured with Earthless and Mono, but their music is more delicate than the heavy blues of Earthless and more dynamic than Mono. It’s a careful blend of psychedelia from the 60s to today, and it’s a real treat.
Miracle – The Strife of Love in a Dream
I’m a sucker for anything by the guys from Zombi, and Steve Moore’s darkened synthpop outfit is certainly no exception. “Parsifal Gate” is an indelible opener, with its Blade Runner-inspired synths and oppressive darkness. The group’s lushly-rendered take on 80s Depeche Mode-style microgoth makes me want to put on my Sisters of Mercy t-shirt and tune in, turn off, and burn out.
Tess Parks & Anton Newcombe – S/T
A Canadian chanteuse and the main perpetrator of the Brian Jonestown Massacre team up to create this ethereal, hazed-out portrait of foggy mornings spent on the beach, isolated rays of sunshine breaking through the gray clouds. It’s a lovely shore to spend your time.
Emma Ruth Rundle – On Dark Horses
Music for a darkened room, Emma Ruth Rundle’s gothic alt rock appeals to metalheads without actually being metal at all. This is chamber pop, sure, but it’s also pop loaded into a chamber and aimed directly at your heart.
ST37 – ST37
The 300th or so release from these Texas space rock weirdos sprawls across two hours of insanity, and it covers a lot of ground. Basically a bunch of guys who grew up with punk rock deciding that Hawkwind was a little too grounded for them, this is as good a place to start with their discography. At the very least, it’s never boring!
Tusmørke – Fjernsyn i farver
You never know quite what to expect from this Norwegian coven, and their sixth full-length in as many years continues to cast illusory cantrips. It’s still based in their infectious folk-prog style, but this time there’s heavy organ and electronic augmentation that take their rituals into the forgotten future.
Gary War – Gaz Forth
I’m not familiar with Gary War’s earlier work, but I understand he’s been involved with Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, so I’m guessing it’s on the stranger side. While this synth-y, psych-y little gem certainly has its idiosyncrasies, the Beatles-esque melodies help keep things more rounded. I’m against most wars, but I’m definitely pro-Gary War.
Yamantaka // Sonic Titan – Dirt
This might be cheating, since there are metal elements, but the brilliance of YT//ST comes from their dismissal of genres altogether. This anime-inspired concept record defies easy description. Prog, maybe? They blend so many different styles together into a twisted chimera that should turn out like Tetsuo at the end of Akira, but somehow it holds together and doesn’t explode into fleshy chunks.