Idol Threat's Top 20 Albums of 2016 - Idol Threat: Warning Shots at the Mainstream


Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Idol Threat's Top 20 Albums of 2016

The goal was to have this list out before March, and it looks like we just made it under the wire!  There was a lot of great albums this past year including an actual solid release from Thrash Metal pioneers Metallica, another scorcher from Deftones, MIA's final album AIM and A Tribe Called Quest's double-album masterpiece "We Got it From Here…Thank You 4 Your Service!"  However, Idol Threat is here to highlight the lesser known, but you all know that already.  So here is Idol Threat's Top 20 Albums of 2016 in no particular order:

Gonjasufi – Callus 
Sumach Ecks aka Gonjasufi is a wholly unique being.  Hailing from Chula Vista, California, the half Mexican half Ethiopian yoga teacher got his start with San Diego Hip Hop crew Masters of the Universe.  He rose to prominence after an appearance on famed experimental producer Flying Lotus' album Los Angeles, which gained him the notice of independent UK label Warp Records.  Warp released his debut album “A Sufi and a Killer” in 2010 and has released his subsequent two albums; including his latest “Callus.”

Gonjasufi is a vocalist unlike any other, his ragged singing haunting the tracks like a mystical haze, his delivery often times alternating between insightful and pleading.  Sumach does away with the samples that normally inhabit his production, yet it still remains decidedly lo-fi and psychedelic.  The music here fuzzes, drones and echoes around his raspy voice as cavernous, dub-like drums combines with distorted guitars that snarl out broken melodies, with buzzing synths and the occasional sitar joining them.   While Gonajsufi handles all the production, former Cure member Pearl Thompson lends his guitar stylings to a couple of tracks as well.   

This record is very much about the ills of society and self and can easily be seen as a reflection of the world we’re in today.  Callus can be seen as a result of becoming numb to the world’s pain, but I prefer to feel like it’s more of a hardening to it.  This record scrapes at the core of our woes and simultaneously steels us from them. Gonjasufi has always had a sound of his own, but his latest has seemed to distill all his influences into something new altogether.  His darkest album is also his greatest.

65daysofstatic - No Man's Sky: Music for an Infinite Universe 
65daysofstatic has been releasing quality music for nearly 13 years with every release nearing perfection. In fact, if I heard their last album “Wild Light” months earlier than I did it would've easily made our 2013 Top 20 list. The Sheffield, England instrumental band's infusion of electronic elements into their music has made them a unique standout from peers such as Explosions in the Sky, This Will Destroy You and Mono. This 2016 album only further solidifies their place amongst their post rock contemporaries.

Music for an Infinite Universe is their latest album which also happens to be the soundtrack to survival video game No Man's Sky. This is the second soundtrack they have done, with 2011's Silent Running technically not a soundtrack but more of a re-score of the 1972 film of the same name. 65Daysofstatic's music is cinematic, majestic and energetic making it a perfect fit for the action-adventure sci-fi of No Man's Sky. Normally when soundtracks are made for film or video games the music released is rather sparse and lacking without its visuals, but that isn't the case here. The impressive feat that the album can stand alone on its own merit is only overshadowed by the fact that this level is held up across a double-album.

Whether its skittering, distorted electricity or Rob Jone's drumstick acrobatics the drumming on No Man's Sky provides a great backdrop to the reverb-drenched guitars, pianos, crescendos, synths and samples provided by 65dos. Sci-Fi references are also scattered across the album with titles such as Asimov, Monolith and Hypersleep. When listening to No Man's Sky: Music for an Infinite Universe adjectives such as relentless, transcendental, ethereal and epic comes into mind as 65dos plays the full gamut of their career across 2 discs of what may be their best work yet.

Inter Arma - Paradise Gallows 
I'm sure that almost every artist or band feels that their next album is their best, it should be a given for musicians who constantly strive to better themselves and push the envelope. Even still Richmond, VA post-sludge band Inter Arma must have felt that their latest release was something special, an even greater progression than simple evolution. Paradise Gallows proves not only to be Inter Arma's magnum opus, but one of the best post metal albums to come out in quite some time. Inter Arma brings black and death metal into the tried and true combination of atmospheric sludge to devastating effect, a testament to the versatility of vocalist Mike Paparo and the dexterity of the band. 

Harvey Milk howls, black metal shrieks, bellowing growls and even droning chants envelop the sonic landscape, which at times resembles a desert wasteland and at others the victim of a destructive hurricane. Tempos twist from trodding hooves to rolling thunder to excruciatingly slow crashes. Thrash riffs, acoustic passages and even southern rock solos can also be found buried deep in the doom that permeates the album. Despite the diversity there is a certain constant sheen of sludge that is both stratospheric and cavernous that ties everything together. Progressive doom, heavy psych, post death metal – whatever you call this album it is clear that its one of the best fusion of different metal genres out. 71 minutes of metal has rarely been so varied and succinct.

Reks – The Greatest X 
Reks (aka Rhythmatic Eternal King Supreme) has been making noise in the underground Boston Hip Hop scene for quite some time now. In fact Corey Isaiah Christie, who specifically hails from Lawrence, MA, has been releasing music since 2000. His latest album The Greatest X is actually his tenth full-length, hence the X title. You'd be forgiven if you're unfamiliar with Reks, as he's still not yet a household name even by underground standards, and Reks himself even seems self-aware of the injustice since the X in the album title also stands for 'unknown.' Hopefully this album will correct that mistake because Reks is one of the most talented and consistent lyricists who has released what could be his greatest album.  Reks has a plethora of guests lending verses and producing the tracks here, including fellow Massachusetts natives Statik Selektah, Arcitype, EzDread, Ed O.G., N.B.S., Akrobatik and Termanology. Even with all that talent enlisted Reks is never outshined on the 35 tracks found here. Golden era Hip Hop worship brings along the usual self-braggadocio in tracks such as "The Greatest," "The Recipe" and "Unknown," but also brings about other subject matters as well. Rallies against oppression and anti-police brutality anthem “Pray for Me: The Genocide Note” and “Hands Up (Wink Wink)” join the others as well as the politically-relevant “Impression, Sunrise.” Mellow burners mixed with triumphant tracks makes for a slightly disjointed album, but one can't deny that Reks gave us nothing but dopeness for a full double-album lending credence to the fact that he may truly be the greatest of the unknown.

Ulcerate - Shrines of Paralysis 
Death Metal is a brutal genre. It rarely pulls any punches and is as relentless as it is heavy, so you can imagine that it's rare for a death metal band to be able to create an atmosphere with their assault, as disorienting and dissonant it may be. Add on top of all that the fact that this particular brand of brutality is actually technical death metal and you have a feat that is even more impressive.

Besides the aural dread and anxiety of neighboring Australian experimental band Portal, its hard to find another death metal band that can evoke emotions other than anger while still retaining their technicality like New Zealanders Ulcerate (though it can be argued that bands like death metal legends Gorguts paved the way for both.) Shrines of Paralysis reaches heights that their previous albums attained to, with the twists and turns of the soundscapes impossibly sculpting near-melodies out of the riffs and atonality. While most death metal drums barrage the listeners like the jackhammer of an earthquake, the sonic attack on Shrines of Paralysis is more like the roll of unending waves from a tsunami; the effect may not be immediate but its just as devastating if not more so.

The lyrical content also breaks out of the norm as common death metal tropes such as gore, occultism, satanism or sci-fi are set aside for more grounded and nihilistic analysis of the human condition ("There Are No Saviours," "Extinguished Light" and "End of All Hope" being some examples.) The forward-thinking content matches the music well with the overall feel revealing an intelligence behind the chaos. Musicianship, mood and misanthropy coalesce into a piece of work that is as approachable as it is impenetrable. Its hard to believe that a sound so punishing and massive is coming from only three players.

Blush Response – Reshaper 
YES! Cuban-American NY Expat Joey Blush has come a long way since starting his electronic music project Blush Response. His earlier releases had him exploring the more 'standard' side of industrial music, complete with distorted vocals and structured arrangements. While there was nothing wrong with that it wasn't really where Blush shined, and it wasn't until he embraced the modular synth and a more improvised, instrumental approach to his music that his sound really began to flourish into something all its own.

It seems that abandoning of computer edits and his relocation to techno capital Berlin has inspired him and it definitely shows in his latest release from German independent record label Ant-Zen. You’ll find that Reshaper is different than the long, dark ambient movements of his previous 2016 cassette release “Rebirthed in the Sprawl.”    The music here has more in common with the techno-influenced material on his Future Tyrants 12″ released the year before on aufnahme + wiedergabe.

Rhythmic noise, techno, EBM and industrial music find a synthesis here (sorry, pun intended) as the album pulses with decayed, thundering drums and crescendos with sinister, distorted, glitchy synth noise. All the tracks retain a strong 4/4 beat despite his abstract evolution, with the drums acting as anchors to rein in the modular chaos found within.  Joey Blush's sound design skills are top notch (in the past he was programming for heavyweights like Fear Factory and Front Line Assembly's Rhys Fulber) and it’s hard to believe that his recordings and live shows are all improvised.  Reshaper is hard and harsh and will pound you into the dance floor; hopefully this new direction Blush has taken is one he holds onto for a while.

Trap Them – Crown Feral 
When I first heard Trap Them on their 2007 full-length Sleepwell Deconstructor I was intrigued.  The album was raw, a blazing buzz of Boss Heavy Metal pedal-driven guitars and the energy of hardcore mixed in a blender and spit out in anger.  Their follow-up EP “Séance Prime” being released by Deathwish Inc. further validated the Entombed-meets-Converge vibe I was getting from the band.  Their status was then further bolstered when they were picked as support for Napalm Death’sTime Waits for No Slave” tour.  By the time their flawless second full-length “Seizures in Barren Praise” came out I was completely hooked, and Trap Them had cemented themselves as a permanent fixture in hardcore/metal history.  Though more polished this time around (Kurt Ballou’s GodCity production never fails to capture a band clearly while retaining their edge) their music still touches on aspects of d-beat, metalcore and crust. Their breakneck speed, acrobatic double bass, articulate yet gravelly screams and trademark guitar tone playing short yet chaotic harmonic runs are ever present. Ten years down the line and Crown Feral sounds just as ferocious and agile as their debut. Their blackened grind may have brightened, but they are still unmistakably Trap Them. Many bands may have risen from the so-called “Entombedcore” genre, but when it comes to this combination of hardcore and metal Trap Them still takes the crown.

Meyhem Lauren - Piatto D'oro 
It’s easy to dismiss Meyhem Lauren as Raekwon to Action Bronson’s Ghostface Killah. Meyhem’s devotion to 90s era NY grimy Hip Hop (check the Cuban links chain and Jesus pieces on the Versace Plate album cover, and Polo-tribute rap name) is only matched by his devotion to his partnership with Action (whose voice has drawn multiple comparisons and rivalries with Ghostface.) So the argument could be made, but that would be too reductive of a comparison to do justice to Laurenovitche.  

Nevertheless the influence of the Wu-Tang Clan, as well as other New York  Golden era greats such as NaS and MOP is definitely evident in Meyhem’s style, delivery, beat selection and most importantly – skill level.  When people complain about Hip Hop being dead or NY rap being wack it’s obvious that their only exposure is radio surface-scratching, because the lyrically raw style of boom bap is alive and well in the underground (as it has always been) with Meyhem Lauren being a shining example. This isn't just mere grimy rap revivalism as Lauren injects his own flair into familiar territory with beats provided by newcomers and veterans alike. Longtime collaborators Harry Fraud and Alchemist join legends Large Professor and DJ Muggs and more behind the boards. The guest rappers are few, though Meyhem's right hand man Action provides vocals on 3 separate tracks. If your only exposure to Meyhem Lauren is his sideman features in Action Bronson's food show “Fuck That's Delicious” you are only doing yourself a disservice. Even more still if you are a fan of Action Bronson, since it was Laurenovitche who convinced him to start rapping in the first place. Piatto D'oro (or 'plate of gold' to the layman) isn't just about money, menus, manifestos, mafiosos and mayhem. It's about pure, unadulterated Hip Hop.

Theo Croker – Escape Velocity 
Theo Croker joins the ever growing list of young US Jazz artists that aren’t afraid to blur the genre lines in their music - artists such as Robert Glasper, Kamasi Washington and Christian Scott.  Like the aforementioned Scott, Croker has roots to the past with Scott being the nephew of saxophonist Donald Harrison while Croker is the grandson of great trumpeter Doc Cheatham.  Those roots extended further during his stay in China when he met famed vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater who became his mentor soon after.  Perhaps it is those connections that allow Croker to blend Hip Hop and R&B with Jazz in a way that is subtle and respectful, utilizing effects on his trumpet such as the wah pedal and echo as embellishes rather than centerpieces and incorporating electronic drums and keys.

This album also once again features his band DVRK FUNK.  Crocker explains the origin of his band name by stating that: “Darkness has been labeled as a negative thing but the outer reaches of space are dark. Where life starts is dark. Dark is an endless possibility, infinite and unknown. That’s what we’re about.”  It seems that life and the infinite unknown is an important theme for Croker, given his latest album title and his previous; AfroPhysicist.  It’s a theme that allows his music to be spiritual while still being grounded. Instead of going to far out cosmic spaces his music becomes more ethereal and encompassing.  

The songs here deftly sway between grooves as different as R&B-infused modern Jazz, world music and even protest music.  Song lengths remain brief as far as Jazz albums goes, with the majority of tracks being under 4 minutes long with the remaining few barely breaking the five minute mark.  The brevity of the tracks are only punctuated with how quickly the album seems to breathe through to its end, which is a testimony to its fluidity. Escape Velocity begins a call for the enjoyment of life, and I for one can think of few better ways to enjoy life than listening to this album.

Youth Code - Commitment to Complications 
Commitment to Complications starts with a synth track that wouldn’t seem out of place in any 80s movie (or current TV show a-la Stranger Things) but once the track is over the album explodes into the all-out brat-a-tat boogie that LA based EBM duo Youth Code has been known for! The drums pound with machine gun fist pumps while hard synth lines coax listeners to either dance or riot, neither of which would seem out of place with this record as the backdrop. Sara Taylor and Ryan George describe their music as Industrial Powerhouse, and it's hard to come up with a better synopsis of their sound.

Youth Code's fast rise to success since their debut performance at famed record store Vacation Vinyl is not just hype or luck. The combination of hardcore vocals with synths and electronic drums has given them a strong following, including co-signs from the industrial elite such as icon Genesis P-Orridge who released a limited edition single of theirs on his label Angry Love Productions, Skinny Puppy who took them on tour last year, and Rhys Fulber of Front Line Assembly who produced their latest album.  All this has seemed to help them temper their sound to be even more polished on Commitment to Complications, which is only their second full length album.

The vocals and lyrics are also a stand-out as usual, with Sara's screams of self-reflection, pain, and survival only being emphasized by the various distortions and vocoder effects being applied.  Although not a metal band, Youth Code’s hardcore/metal connections did manage to rope in a few friends for support; with Ben Falgoust of Goatwhore and Nail's Todd Jones providing guest vocals on the album.  Youth Code’s fusion of hardcore and electronic body music has only grown more potent with this album, bringing more sorely needed industrial music into the forefront.

...and here are the rest of the top 20:

Wormrot Voices
Kool Keith Feature Magnetic
Gatecreeper Sonoran Deprevation
Anciients Voice of the Void
Brain Tentacles Brain Tentacles
Khemmis Hunted
Blu Cheetah in the City
Nails You Will Never Be One of Us
Anaal Nathrakh The Whole of Law
Meshuggah The Violent Sleep of Reason

Best Free Album: Perturbator - The Uncanny Valley (best free album shared on Idol Threat)
Best EP: Aphex Twin - Cheetah
Best Multi-Album: Autechre - elseq 1-5 (Since this is technically 5 albums and a digital-only release we couldn't call this a double disc or box set.)

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