2016 – what a year, ey? I’m sure you’re all aware of the *ahem*, yuge events that occurred over the past year, but you’re probably sick to the teeth of the ‘2016 is the worst’ rhetoric by now, so I won’t beat a dead horse.
But, to follow up on Frog’s Top Ew of the Year, I want to talk about what albums I found to be disappointing from 2016. This year has been quite remarkable in terms of the quality of music that has been released, though there have been some artists that failed to meet expectations, sometimes even miserably. The bands in this list are, what I feel to be, those artists. I love what these bands have done previously at some point in their discography, which plays a big factor in building expectations for these albums, but ultimately I’ve felt that their albums from 2016 were a let-down.
Disclaimer: This is NOT my ‘Worst Albums of 2016’ list.
The following five LPs are those that I felt have been personal disappointments, not the downright embodiment of humanity’s collective sin. I won’t be making a ‘Worst Of’ list, either; I don’t go out of my way to listen to objectively terrible music, sometimes we cross paths, but thankfully this year has been somewhat merciful.
These are just my opinions, so if yours are different or you feel like I’m being unfair, tell us in the comments section below! But first things first, here’s the first part of my Disappointing Albums of 2016:
#5 – Crippled Black Phoenix – Bronze – (Post Rock / Psychedelic Rock)
The often mysterious ‘vigilante rock’ outfit has always had a niche for the political, the poetic and the macabre, with their music lavished with spoken word samples and folk influences. Since their 2014 album, White Light Generator, Crippled Black Phoenix have been worryingly unsubtle in both musical and conceptual delivery – tracks like ‘We Remember You’ and ‘A Brighter Tomorrow’ had the elegance of the band’s previous works, but the rest of the album was largely focused on more streamlined, hard-hitting rock, resulting in a sacrifice of the band’s finer lyricism. According to frontman Justin Greaves, this was intentional – governed by a want to be more upfront about his political disdain. A respectable artistic decision, though not quite my cup of tea.
Bronze follows suit, and sees Crippled Black Phoenix punchier than ever – though I find that this brasher approach is lacking somewhat in both musical subtlety and tenderness compared to what the band has done before. The opener, ‘Dead Imperial Bastard’, is 5 minutes of murky, pulsating synths, but it feels like it’s dragging on forever – compared to ‘(In the Yonder Marsh)’ from (Mankind), a similar track of eerie ambiance, not a lot happens and not a lot of emotion is evoked unlike the unnerving latter. The one track on Bronze that proves me wrong is ‘A Future Shock’, that laments the inhuman view society has towards the homeless and tugs my heart the way CBP has tugged it many a time before. Innuendo aside, this would’ve been even better if this track was actually part of the main LP and not a God damn bonus track – typical!
I do enjoy how they managed to cock up the release date in the above video of ‘No Fun’
Tracks like ‘No Fun’ and ‘Champions of Disturbance’ are really enjoyable tracks with memorable heavy hooks, even if the vocals are smothered by its own mumbling and the album’s muddy prediction. ‘Turned to Stone’ sickened me on first listen with its awful, wah-wah, hard-panned left guitar intro and weird 70’s hard rock vocals; but I will admit I grew to like it, albeit a guilty pleasure. The female vocals in the intro to ‘Scared and Alone’, however, remain an irritation with its frail warbling. Otherwise, the album is pretty solid, though there’s nothing that gets my jaw dropping or anything else that leaves a notable impression.
I do quite like Bronze; I wouldn’t go out of my way to listen to it, but it’s decent. Though standing beside I, Vigilante or (Mankind) The Crafty Ape, it comes actoss as the band’s weakest record that fails to display Crippled Black Phoenix at their best.
#4 – Opeth – Sorceress – (Progressive Metal / Progressive Rock)
It’s undeniable that Opeth have been getting soft on us as of late; going down the gentler path of progressive rock, especially in 2014’s Pale Communion, and more importantly away from the brutal growls of their acclaimed albums such as Blackwater Park and Ghost Reveries. Some people embrace this change, some people disdain it – I would be part of the former if Opeth could uphold their best qualities, or even improve on them, which sadly I can’t say they do.
It’s certainly the heaviest of the three ‘clean albums’, the first being the notorious Heritage, but Sorceress actually fares strongest in its softer tracks like ‘Will O the Wisp’ and the Arabic sounding ‘The Seventh Sojourn’. On the other end of the spectrum, the title track and ‘The Wilde Flowers’ sound like a cross between Swedish pop-metal band Ghost crossed with a band that are parodying themselves – urgh. ‘Chrysalis’ is a track that could comfortably sit alongside those in Watershed, a glimmer of past greatness that was incredibly exciting to hear; but this doesn’t excuse Opeth from those few dud tracks and consistently crude lyrics, with the first line sung on the album being: “I am a sinner, and I worship evil” – cliché!
Otherwise, Opeth’s latest endeavour is alright; the highlights of Sorceress are fantastic and most of the album is pretty enjoyable, though its low points are either painful or laughable. Like Crippled Black Phoenix’s Bronze, Sorceress is an album I have no gripe listening to as a whole, though it’s probably the worst of what I’ve heard of the band’s discography, which is a shame knowing what Opeth have managed to achieved before.
You can read what the rest of Prog Talk has to say about Sorceress on our Roundabout
#3 – Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial – (Indie Rock / Lo-Fi)
You may have heard of them online via Pitchfork, Antony Fantano or even /mu/; but if you’re scratching your head or giggling at the absurdity of the name Car Seat Headrest, that’s understandable as the indie lo-fi outfit is anything but progressive. Former bedroom musician and emotional heartthrob Will Toledo, and subsequently his project Car Seat Headrest, had a following on Bandcamp before being signed to Matador Records last year, releasing their second album with the label Teens of Denial earlier in 2016.
I’m not going to try and be hipster by saying: “Oh, I liked Car Seat Headrest before they were signed to a record label” whilst sipping my cappuccino, scoffing at plebeians and writing this review in a Starbucks on my MacBook Air. I couldn’t do that anyway, I can’t afford any of those things – but I’m still going to say it. Unimpressed by the promotional single ‘Drunk Drivers / Killer Whales’, I wasn’t expecting a lot of this record following Teens of Style, but there’s still that lingering fog of disappointment.
The main issue I have with Teens of Denial is that it seems tame by Toledo’s standards; I suspect that due to the band being recently signed and their apparent growing popularity, Car Seat Headrest are being twisted, even if unintentionally, by commercialism. From this, Toledo’s breakdowns, confessions and outbursts feel restrained compared to songs off How to Leave Town and Twin Fantasy. Even the softer vocals and coos don’t sound powerful anymore, but are more like bored drones, kind of like Nirvana; but when he does let loose in ‘Just What I Needed’ and ‘Unforgiving Girl’, it’s annoying rather than endearing.
Instrumentally, Car Seat Headrest remain solid with their classic indie rock instrumentation; especially ‘Vincent’, when the trumpets blare in, and some bass riffs do make me squeal in delight. That, ‘Fill in the Blank’ and the build-up and second half of ‘The Ballad of Costa Concordia’ are easily the best moments on the album; with their wild instrumentation, lyrics and vocals that are impressive, the latter having a strong vibe of ‘Beach Life-in-Death’ from Twin Fantasy to boot, too.
Teens of Denial is an okay album; it has its moments and I can see the appeal with Car Seat Headrest’s more polished production and more focused song writing, but really there’s just so much fire missing in it that comparing it to How to Leave Town is no contest. I can’t listen to Teens of Denial without growing bored or crawling back to How to Leave Town like a clingy ex halfway through. I guess missing out on tickets for their latest tour was a blessing in disguise, huh.
I’ve underestimated just how much I’ve wanted to talk about each of these albums. Much to your dismay, my Disappointing Albums of 2016 list will be concluded tomorrow to give you all a breather, and to save my bloody stumps of fingers from any more typing – so stay tuned for Part II, where you may or may not be surprised what’s taken the #2 and #1 spots!