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The Music of 2016: Mid-year Report

The State of the Music: Part One.

It’s halfway through 2016, so it is time for the semi-annual roundup of where we are.

It started out slowly, a couple of releases right off the bat from Shearwater and David Bowie, and then it seemed that there was little of interest in the immediate future.  However I can’t say that I was paying a whole lot of attention to the music scene anyway:  it’s been a tough year personally on a number of levels.  But when I started to think about music again, a few surprising things had snuck into my consciousness – albums in styles and genres that I would not necessarily have sought out on my own, but here they are.

Every year I can count on at least one act to show up that I’d never heard of and that blows me away, but this year there are several.  There are surprises, and there are disappointments.  Obviously the current rankings are tentative and entirely subject to change, but it is unlikely that an album currently sitting near the bottom will suddenly rocket to the top.  It is still a crapshoot though:  there are a couple of powerful contenders to come, and at least one anticipated release from a trio with no name, and whose sound is a complete mystery at the moment. Who knows what this list will look like at the end of the year?

Before we get into the list and mini-reviews, a quick glance at the albums I know are in the pipeline:

Upcoming:

  • Russian Circles – Guidance (August)
  • Seven Impale second album — September
  • Riverside electronica – looks like October
  • The as-yet unnamed Maciej Meller/Maciej Golyzniak/Mariusz Duda trio album (November)

Here we go: The contenders so far, in reverse order:

  1. Arcade Messiah – II

Complex and heavy instrumental progressive post-rock.  There is no doubting the musical chops of these guys, and there are some fine moments, but the album is perhaps a bit too self-important for its own good.

  1. Iamthemorning – Lighthouse

I’d like to like this better than I do, it is quite lovely and atmospheric, but to be perfectly honest the slow baroque-pop tends to get a little samey after a while, and the breathy vocal style wears.  The title track works so well because the male guest vocals effectively play off the soprano and provide density and interest.  And the last track is outstanding.

  1. David Bowie – Blackstar

Another album I am supposed to like more than I do.  It is not a bad album by any means, and the title track is a strange, compelling monster…but I feel that sentiment is not really a good reason to rank an album, and it is only sentiment that could boost this album higher than it is.

  1. The Vliets – I – IX

These guys generally do alternative psychedelic pop, but this album, digital only, is pure ambient electronica, composed as a sonic backdrop for some art installation.  It does work perfectly in that context too – excellent background music.  It would rank higher if it was longer.

https://vliets.bandcamp.com/track/iv

  1. Votum — :KTONIK:

The first or second time I heard this I was kind of excited, because it sounded so much more interesting than the previous album.  It is heavy prog metal but more metal than prog, and more than a few moments really caught me up…and then something happened.  The third and subsequent times I played it…it just sat there.  It lost its edge really quickly, and I find that except for a couple of tracks near the beginning, I so lose focus that I am surprised to discover that the album is over.  I barely notice it.

  1. Inspired – Music Inspired by Alchemy

There are some great, atmospheric instrumental pieces on this album, the third in an occasional series, but not enough of them.  And most of them are just too damned short.  See my review here.

  1. Airbag – Disconnected

I was so hoping that this band would step outside its lush, sweeping Floyd-channelling boundaries this time around, and extend their efforts … but alas, apparently they decided to play it safe.  So very very safe.  Disconnected sounds so much like the previous two albums that in my mind I have trouble disentangling the songs one album from the other.  It’s just more of the same.  They can do better than this.

  1. Katatonia – The Fall of Hearts

Another album that is not hitting me where it counts.  I was hoping for a return to heaviness, and there is some of that, but mostly they have turned to progressive metal with emphasis on the progressive.  Not necessarily a bad thing, but it makes for an album that goes for atmosphere over kick-ass, and an album in which I cannot sustain interest over its considerable length.

Except for “Serein”.  Which is jaw-droppingly amazing.

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