As autumn approached, we were worried; where were all the good rock and post-rock albums? But at the end of the year, they entered in a flurry. What began as a disappointing year turned out to be incredibly solid ~ veterans stepped to the plate and rookies represented themselves well.
It’s worth pointing out that four of the post-rock albums on our list come from Asian bands. The scene continues to thrive in nations such as Japan and China, and their excitement level is palpable in their music. ArcTanGent remains the scene’s public face, but its impact is much larger than anyone can imagine.
And now A Closer Listen presents the Top Ten Rock and Post-Rock Albums of 2016!
Ben Chatwin ~ Heat & Entropy (Cooking Vinyl)
This is one of the wild ones. Not content to record within the confines of a single genre, Ben Chatwin (Talvihorros) gleefully swims from the shores of ambience to the oceans of electronics before diving into the depths of post-rock. As a result, Heat & Entropy is a many-tentacled beast. The Kraken goes wherever the Kracken wants; and despite the danger, we’re eager to follow. (Richard Allen)
Explosions in the Sky ~ The Wilderness (Temporary Residence)
At this point in their career, the members of Explosions in the Sky might have rested on their collective laurels, content to record the same album again and again with minor variations. But fame, fortune and even Hollywood have failed to dull their creative edge. On their latest album, they travel into the wilderness, not deserting their old sound, but capturing something new. Think you know what the band sounds like? Listen again. (Richard Allen)
Films ~ signs from the past (Ricco)
A supergroup of sorts, Films includes members of Anoice and Matryoshka, along with Kashiwa Daisuke on mastering duties. On signs from the past, orchestra and invented language paint sonic landscapes of an alternative, fairy tale world. Wonder lies on the surface and even greater beauty lies within. From tender piano to post-rock crescendo, the album makes one nostalgic for a world that never was. (Richard Allen)
Fragments ~ Imaginary Seas (Patchrock)
We’re calling this “positive post-rock”, as the spirit of Fragments is so high. Imaginary Seas is rife with catchy riffs and memorable melodies and bears a mood of consistent uplift. The album also includes one of the year’s best “classic” post-rock tracks, which boasts a perfect post-rock title: “Mountains and Lakes.” Fans longing for beauty and wholeness need look no further. (Richard Allen)
Mono ~ Requiem for Hell (Pelagic/Temporary Residence)
After stunning fans with two albums last year, one for the old and one for the new, Mono chose a single path this year, and it includes orchestra. The title track alone is worth the admission; at 18 minutes, it hearkens back to works of prior years while blazing a path for the future. So yes, the album is hard; but that’s what hell inspires. Fortunately, the metal riffs are balanced by the most innocent of sounds, the heartbeat of a baby in the womb. (Richard Allen)
Seabuckthorn ~ I Could See the Smoke (Lost Tribe Sound)
The old-style guitar playing of Seabuckthorn’s I Could See The Smoke brings to mind a past period; one that is simpler, but one that can also never be reborn. There are no terrifying presidents or threats to stability: it’s a wonderfully preserved barony that time cannot age, and there’s neither a Gap store nor a Nike shop in sight. Tattered clothes drape over the notes, and it’s all the better for it. It takes you back – with the authenticity of a guitar’s fret-buzz and the stripped back sound of fingers fretting the strings. You can almost smell the pungent ash, alight inside the smoky music, let alone see it rising, rising. (James Catchpole)
Usti Waya ~ From Dust, We Rise (Self-Released)
With its penchant for pairing long, narrative-like instrumental development and noisy droning (which is to say, structuring with de-structuring), there’s little doubt that Usti Waya’s From Dust, We Rise belongs squarely in the company of mythically inclined bands like GY!BE and A Silver Mt. Zion. Tinged with millenarian apocalypse, this is an album to freak out to, its psychedelic edge constantly suggesting an imminent breakdown of any and all order. This is the music of mad street preachers and the obscurity of their certainty, the uncompromising, unyielding clarity of the end of days. (David Murrieta)
Wang Wen ~ Sweet Home, Go! (Pelagic)
We’re always pleasantly surprised when a band drops the vocals, and by doing so, Wang Wen has produced their finest album to date ~ on the 8th go-around! Sweet Home, Go! is rife with quarter-hour tracks, which reward the patient listener by blossoming as they develop. Our world may be fast-paced, but when music is this good, there’s no need to hurry. Let the others race; we’ll get there soon enough. (Richard Allen)
World’s End Girlfriend ~ Last Waltz (Virgin Babylon)
The last album we reviewed this year turned out to be one of the best. Last Waltz is an ambitious project from Katsuhiko Maeda and friends, tackling nothing less than heaven and hell and the end of the world. But WEG brings the necessary drama, packing the album with so much emotional tension and sonic variety that it’s impossible not to think about larger questions: what is our place in the world? Where will we go when it ends? How long do we have? Be sure to procure the digital bonus track, “LAST BLINK”, which hides the final tear. (Richard Allen)
Wrekmeister Harmonies ~ Light Falls (Thrill Jockey)
Once again, Wrekmeister Harmonies appears in our year-end lists. Once again, the open collaborative nature of the band constantly reconfigured by J.R. Robinson showcases the multiplicity of his dark endeavor, the particularly orchestral capacity he has to articulate doom out of collaborators’ distinct styles. The void has an infinite number of shapes, and as light falls the truth of our minds’ shadows is revealed, the slow-burning shifts in tonality producing contrasts that do not arise from immediacy but from a history we often prefer to obfuscate with dreams. With such incredibly charged and interesting albums it’s no wonder Robinson’s project is a mainstay for the year’s best time and again. (David Murrieta)