The Thomas Top Five: 9/19/16
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.
Blood Incantation – STARSPAWN
Genre: Technical Death Metal
Favorite Tracks: “Vitrification of Blood (Part 1),” “Hidden Species (Vitrification of Blood Part 2),” “Starspawn”
This year’s been a good one for the ultra-specific subgenre of technical death metal about space! Though still dominated by Vektor’s mind-blowing TERMINAL REDUX, Colorado quartet Blood Incantation’s full-length debut is an impressive competitor. As the descriptor would entail, technical death metal can be a hard nut to crack considering the already abrasive nature of the parent genre, combined with guitar theatrics that are prone to leave the listener reeling. What’s impressive about STARSPAWN is the fact that while the requisite heaviness is still carefully cultivated, the labyrinthine time signatures, solos, and breakdowns aren’t as inapproachable as they are on many of the album’s peers. This is because Blood Incantation always make sure to keep melody at the forefront, mixing the vocals in such a way that they complement the instrumentation instead of overpowering it. With regular doses of soaring, clean-cut guitar passages and small dashes of progressive elements to accentuate the album’s theme of space exploration, STARSPAWN is a fresh voice in this year’s selection of metal.
Classixx – FARAWAY REACH
Genre: Tropical House, Dance-Pop
Favorite Tracks: “Safe Inside (featuring Passion Pit),” “Just Let Go (featuring How to Dress Well),” “Ndivile (featuring Nonku),” “Pure Distraction”
It’s unfortunate that this will get looked over due to its seemingly pedestrian list of radio-staple features. While FARAWAY REACH may solely aim to trigger the pleasure centers, nobody can deny that it’s extremely adept at what it does. I’ve always held a secret soft spot for the buzzed sunset hues of tropical house, and Classixx does a great job of viewing these festival-friendly sounds through an infectious lens of synthpop, nu-disco, and Balearic Beat. Carrying a pervasive sense of fun, playfulness, and recreational hedonism all the way from the dancefloors of Ibiza, FARAWAY REACH certainly won’t win any points from the intellectual crowd, but delivers a slice of sonic sunshine nonetheless. Even the typically gloomy How to Dress Well can’t help but be turned into a dancefloor-dominating vocal presence on album highlight “Just Let Go”! Take a break and indulge in a little guilty pleasure.
Dang Olsen Dream Tape – ZONK
Genre: Hypnagogic Pop
Favorite Tracks: “Zonk” “Hearing the Call,” “Kiki,” “Wise Nug”
Hoo mama is this a stoned one! A mysterious member of Oakland’s drugged-out, esoteric Constellation Tatsu label, Dang Olsen Dream Tape has been gaining a minor amount of internet buzz since last year’s MELLO MIST, but ZONK proves to be his shining artistic achievement so far. At its core ZONK is certainly an album that soars on its ambiance, but there is something far more psychedelic and dream-like here than you typically come across in the soothing soundscapes of the ambient genre itself. The cover proves to be a valuable key in cracking the album’s code, as there is something tribal and undeniably floral about the synth palettes here, although it never becomes so obvious as to directly include field or nature recordings. However, as becomes immediately apparent, this is simultaneously meant to evoke hallucinogenic images of shimmering rainbow polygons on a stairway to Heaven, and the hints of progressive electronic that color each note act as a blanket to wrap the listener up in and carry them off somewhere more open-minded than their own.
Lushlife and CSLSX – RITUALIZE
Genre: Experimental Hip Hop
Favorite Tracks: “Body Double,” “Strawberry Mansion (featuring Freeway),” “Burt Reynolds (Desert Visions)”
The nigh impenetrable pantheon of underground hip hop can be daunting, but braving the currents can wash you to the safe shores of such standouts such as RITUALIZE. Featuring a collaboration between Lushlife, a backpacker who’s been steadily plugging away for a decade, and CSLSX, a producer brand new to hip hop, it’s amazing how polished and accessible RITUALIZE feels. The backgrounds that CSLSX allows Lushlife to play in are among the most exquisite and effortlessly diverse production playgrounds I’ve heard in 2016, deftly shifting from brightly optimistic jazz rap descendants (“Totally Mutual Feeling”), to glowering synthwave meance (“Hong Kong (Lady of Love)”), to the bombastic landscape of a Hollywood chase through the sands of Egypt (“Burt Reynolds (Desert Visions)”). As for Lushlife himself, although he does carry the cross of the densely verbose, willfully heady conscious hip hop emcee, his delivery is always energetic and varied enough to keep our interest engaged. Topped off with a baffling roster of guest features that somehow manage to all be integrated perfectly, this is one of the unsung highlights of 2016 hip hop, a release that manages to feel larger than the genre itself.
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds – SKELETON TREE
Genre: Singer / Songwriter, Art Rock
Favorite Tracks: “Jesus Alone,” “Girl in Amber,” “I Need You,” “Distant Sky,” “Skeleton Tree”
Jesus Fucking Christ, and that’s all I’m going to say about this one.