Recording the 'Les Filles de Illighadad' album. Photo by Chris Kirkley.
I just prepped our end-of-the year content for this week's issue of Metro Times. A whole mess of Top Ten lists? No, in fact. We have decided they are an outmoded form of communication and you wind up creating these fake hierarchies. The worst part is as soon as you finish one and get it all wrapped up, you realize you totally forgot the most important release. It always happens. So instead, we asked local musicians, writers, and artists to tell us about their favorite show, release, or new band from 2016. And like I said, that gets published this Wednesday, and it's a pretty cool collection of stuff — as you'd expect, because this is Detroit, and we have one of the greatest local music scenes in the universe.
We've also parceled out our best-of-the year content across a few issues, without making too big of a deal about it. Last week, we bring you a feature by Ana Gavrilovska on His Name Is Alive, who she argues might have made the best Detroit rock album of 2016. And Khan Santori Davison writes about the collaborative hip-hop album of the year, which happens to have been made with Detroiter Apollo Brown. Next week, we will have a wrap-up of the best electronic and dance music from the year thanks to Rachel Skotarczyk.
This, then, is a Top Ten list. But it's not Metro Times' list of the ten best records of the year. It's probably not even music editor Mike McGonigal's own list of the ten "best" albums of the year (it doesn't even have A Tribe Called Quest on it). But these are the ones that were listened to the most, the criteria that mattered most as he filled out his 'Pazz and Jop' ballot for the Village VOICE's end-of-year music poll.
1) Fatou Seidi Ghali and Alamnou Akrouni, Les Filles de Illighadad (Sahel Sounds)
Despite the popularity of the pleasantly hypnotic, guitar-based sound — and the fact that women in general seem to hold a fairly high status among this group of nomadic Berbers (it's men who wear veils in their culture, for instance) — to my knowledge, very few recordings have been made of Tuareg music as performed by women. This field recording, made last year, features delicate acoustic guitar, hand percussion, and vocals on the first side. The second side is more raucous and percussion heavy, a group of women and loud percussion dominating, a sweet yang to the captivating yin of side one.
2) 75 Dollar Bill, WOOD / METAL / PLASTIC / PATTERN / RHYTHM / ROCK (Thin Wrist)
You know you're writing about some deep shit when you have to look up a synonym for "hypnotic" because you just used that word a few sentences earlier. Alas, I can't think of anything else to call this duo of percussionist and multi-instrumentalist Rick Brown and guitarist Che Chen. This music is heavily rhythmic, stripped-down, and trance-inducing; the record itself is a quality object, and artfully done without resorting to the usual vinyl fetishist nonsense. Their shows in Detroit and Ann Arbor in 2016 did not disappoint.
3) The Intended, Time Will Tell (In the Red)
At least three generations' worth of fucked-up, artful underground/garage sounds get folded together on the Intended's long-awaited debut for In the Red. Each track is different from the one before, but it never sounds like a compilation album or an art project. You will hear echoes of so many subterranean heroes, from TV Personalities to The Index, Red Crayola to the Desperate Bicycles — but it’s a thicker, meatier sound, powered by rocket fuel. This is wholly inventive, relentlessly fun music.
4) Heron Oblivion, Heron Oblivion (Sub Pop)
I was a bit embarrassed when I got an invite to come check out a show that night by Heron Oblivion's vocalist and percussionist Meg Baird on the day of their UFO Factory gig at the start of June. I hadn't so much as lifted a finger to tell others about one of the year's best shows; it had slipped under my radar, as had their debut album, a sick marriage of the sweetest of British-ish folk-rock with the heaviest guitar freakouts. With members of Espers and Comets on Fire, they are phenomenally capable of pulling this off. As strong as the album is, the band is even better live. I had to sit down halfway through, I was so blown away.
5) Träd, Gräs och Stenar, box set (Anthology)
These are some very smart, and never overplaying, tribal-sounding, Swedish hippie magicians, and this is olden times music, from 1971-'73. I'm following the current Pazz and Jop poll standard here, whereby reissues are forced to fend for themselves against current releases. Been a huge fan of this music for nearly twenty years; my first real Internet friend was a Swedish gentleman who raved about this group who did wild covers of contemporary rock hits, did droney takes on their own ethnic folk music, and had even in an earlier incarnation collaborated with Terry Riley. I played the cassette tapes of this stuff until they broke. And even after finding originals of the records included on this set, I totally needed it because the remastering is superb, and there's an entire double album of unreleased live music (as well as extra live recordings) that just makes you feel like you dove into a cool lake on a warm summer day. You want to hold onto the feeling this music provides, and never let go.
7) Marisa Anderson, Into the Light (Chaos Kitchen)
Anderson might be the strongest solo electric guitarist playing loosely within that ballyhooed "American primitive" style today. Her lines are so bright and clear. This record finds her exploring classic, soundtrack-y territory. And as she never tries to dazzle you with chops and runs, this record has real depth to it.
8) His Name Is Alive, Patterns of Light (London London) Patterns of Light is His Name is Alive’s 100th release since their first cassette back in 1986. HNIA spent 13 years recording for every goth's favorite label, 4AD, and sold 100,000+ records, toured the world, received gold and platinum records for soundtracking Tom Cruise’s nervous breakdown in the movie Jerry Maguire, eventually moved out of Livonia and to Detroit, and collaborated on two short films with famed animators the Quay Brothers. This might be their best record to date, but you have to listen to the other 99 before you can adequately state this as fact.
9) Count Ossie and the Mystic Revelation of Rastafari, Grounation (Dub Store) I tell people who've never heard this to imagine some mystical marriage of the best dub poetry record, Mingus moods, and Moondog rhythms — and to then be ready for it to be even better than that could ever be. Ossie was the percussionist on the Folkes Brothers' "Oh Carolina," the 1957 song that launched modern Jamaican music with the invention of ska, infusing jumped-up R&B with the sacred rhythms of the Nyabinghi sect. That song is revisited on Grounation. You are so ridiculously lucky if you've never heard this before, as that means you get to hear it now for the first time.
10) Body/Head, No Waves (Matador)
Between the hype and how burnt-out I am at this point by Sonic Youth (having spent my adult life listening to them), I was ill-prepared for how mind-fuckingly great this live record is. I really hope to get the chance to see this duo of Kim Gordon and Bill Nace soon.