The Thomas Top Five: 10/10/16
After much deliberation, the Thomas Top Five is now permanently a weekly roundup of five 2016 releases, presented alphabetically by artist, that our Editor-in-Chief recommends.
Black Bombaim and Peter Brötzmann – S/T
Genre: Free Jazz, Psychedelic Rock
Favorite Tracks: “Part II,” “Part IV,” “Part V”
On the offhand chance you missed my Brötzmann rec back in March, luckily for you, he’s making a return appearance on the Thomas Top Five! While I pulled no punches in my recommendation of MACHINE GUN, I have good news: If a free jazz artist known around the world for his particularly rough timbre was too much for your palette, 2016 has seen him branch out collaboration-wise, conspiring with Portuguese stoner jam band Black Bombaim to temper his typical raucous cacophony. Purists will surely tear their hair out at the roots, but from where I’m standing, any chance to bring an improvisatory legend to a more mainstream consciousness is a positive development. In fact, the pairing of psychedelic stoner rock and free jazz is genius, as both genres are looping, heady, and all-encompassing. Furthermore, despite the occasional pocket of isolated virtuosity, Brötzmann’s playing is mostly utilized as a texture here, contributing a welcome sense of random disruption to the hypnotically bright rhythmic cycles of his backing band. It’s constantly entertaining for its perfect runtime of 47 minutes, and whether you’re approaching it as impeccable background music, a disbelieving curiosity of Brötzmann’s career, or a chance to broaden your musical horizons, the record won’t disappoint.
D/P/I – COMPOSER
Genre: Sound Collage, Glitch
Favorite Tracks: “Semantics,” “Ecstatics,” “Pattern / WAYTA?”
Purported to be the last release by Alex Gray’s D/P/I moniker, the renowned glitch artist has left us with one of his finest works. Considering the fact that when boiled down it’s a sound collage composed entirely of the cracks and hisses of electronic glitch, COMPOSER is understandably not for everyone, but it’s irresponsible to presume that the album is without artistic merit. One of the reasons COMPOSER is worth your consideration is its basis in plunderphonics. It’s hard enough to create moving musical pieces when you’re plundering sounds and song snippets with traditional basis in melody, motif, and structure, but when your playing field is the digital detritus most of us actively seek to remove from our listening experience, the construction of any listening experience, much less a rewarding one, is even more impressive. COMPOSER is comprised entirely of rhythmic patterns, but what’s fascinating is how much like “songs” these patterns become by the end of their runtime. Perhaps it’s because of our societal conditioning to look for these elements in recorded sound, but each track is mixed in such a way as to slowly but steadily review their own twisted takes on verse, chorus, and bridge. It’s a captivating commentary on music listenership, if nothing else.
Macula Dog – WHY DO YOU LOOK YOUR DOG?
Favorite Tracks: “The Dig Down,” “Grayed Out,” “Lawnmower,” “Smokestack,” “Iron Or Iron Or”
It took me more than a few listens to really begin to appreciate WHY DO YOU LOOK YOUR DOG?, but when a record causes me to step back and scratch my head, I always feel like it deserves a little chance in the spotlight. Resurrecting the long-defunct genre of zolo, a bizarro 70s mish-mash of polka, Zappa, New Wave, and schizophrenic energy, Macula Dog has made what is hands down one of the strangest records of 2016. A 33-minute Nickelodeon acid trip, WHY DO YOU LOOK YOUR DOG? grabs the listener by the throat and drags them along a demented cosmic carnival ride of jerking movement, cartoon-friendly synthesized sound, and a joyous, patently ridiculous sense of pure creativity. A rather uneasy blend of the more childlike side of Mike Patton and the more untethered side of Ariel Pink’s POM POM, Macula Dog possesses a stronger, more cohesive aesthetic core than either of those more well-known reference points, acting as a near-Dadaist statement meant to upend any and all expectations. You won’t get WHY DO YOU LOOK YOUR DOG? the first time you hear it, but for those willing to put in a little work, there’s endless fun to be had.
The Monkees – GOOD TIMES!
Genre: Sunshine Pop
Favorite Tracks: “Good Times,” “Our Own World,” “Me & Magdalena,” “Love to Love”
Fuck you, it’s pretty cool that the surviving members of The Monkees released a studio album of new material in 2016. Do you know what’s even cooler? The fact that it’s as good as this one! While many ancient pop and rock acts are resigned to reuniting and touring until their dying breath, The Monkees, who unfortunately never really enjoyed the fame of many of their peers when they were young, realized the limitations of age and asked a veritable Rolodex of famous music friends to write original songs that emulated their more vital years. With writing credits from everyone from Rivers Cuomo to Ben Gibbard to Noel Gallagher (all of whom were inarguably influenced by The Monkees) to Neil Diamond to members of the Pre-Beatles themselves, GOOD TIMES! manages to cram in a varied amount of different blends of creativity, all moderated through the tried-and-true sensibilities of 60s pop. Even if you aren’t won over by the darling vocal harmonies, optimistic compositions, and good ol’ fashioned joy present in each of these tracks, you at least have to admire how fresh Mickey Dolenz and company sound considering their septuagenarian status. All I know is that I smiled from ear-to-ear the entire time GOOD TIMES! played, and many would do well to step back in time and see who paved the way for the jangle pop they hold dear.
The Nativist – VARIOUS OPTIONS
Favorite Tracks: “White Liver,” “I Love Us and What We Are Becoming,” “Not What I’ve Expected”
Although it’s one of my favorite genres of electronic music, I’m not one to deny the fact that jungle is mostly dead in the water. An underground genre even during its purported heydey in the United Kingdom of the early 1990s, the following decades haven’t been kind to jungle, critical and commercial recognition turning its head further and further away from the genre’s chaotic, skittering physicality as the total blend between pop and electronic becomes ever more imminent. Thankfully, VARIOUS OPTIONS is the first jungle release worth paying attention to in recent memory, if not of the last five-ten years. What The Nativist does here that’s so interesting is blend the most gentle sketches of ambient melody with an ever-evolving portrait of complexly programmed polyrhythms, creating a dichotomous release that’s both relaxing and feverishly danceable at the same time. Possessing the early-A.M. musings of UK Garage and UK Bass, as well as the claustrophobic pummeling of the jungle genre’s early club progenitors, VARIOUS OPTIONS proves to be an important album for the soundscape of the modern city.