ROUND TWO: No intro, let’s keep going!
15. Fujin Club- Fujin Color
This quirky release took many people by surprise (and stole quite a few hearts while at it, I’m sure) back in July. With it’s gorgeous Shibuya-Kei sound and fantastic and novel theme of anonymity (all the while showcasing Sado Island’s heritage and culture) really makes for an interesting listen. The production here, by M. Lemon is absolutely breathtaking and the songs all are playful and relaxing. Vocal work is absolutely perfect and hit the right balance of sweet and not-too-showy. It’s hard to imagine anyone not finding something to enjoy here, it’s definitely one of the most surprising, seemingly out of nowhere releases to come along in 2016.
14. Jun Togawa + Hijokaidan- Togawakaidan Series
When Jun Togawa and Hijokaidan announced a collaboration album (Togawakaidan) this year, people were pretty excited. What we got (first time round) was quite impressive, taking Togawa classics and ramping them up with Hijokaidan’s signature noise- however, it, while cool, also only felt like a taster. That mainly came from the fact that the majority of the “studio” album was actually Hijokaidan solo performance- mainly from live recordings. While this is all fine and dandy, and made for one of the more interesting listens in early 2016, it wasn’t the TOGAWAKAIDAN experience many of us were waiting for.
Enter TOGAWAKAIDAN LIVE. Now, this was more like it. This album lit a fire up your ass and was totally unapologetic. Togawa sounded rough as fuck, her vocal chords shredded. Hijokaidan’s intensity reached apex level. Taken live from Akihabara Goodman on February 21, 2016, this really felt like the experience we were after. It wasn’t broken up in intervals, we got more Togawa songs. It felt like a real album. And it’s one of the best things released all year. Combined, these two rightly deserve their spot in my top 20.
13. David Bowie- Blackstar
David Bowie‘s final release is a brilliantly sombre one, and one of his best in years. It’s brooding cauldron mix of jazz, electronica, progressive rock and foreboding what was to come- is truly a haunting and unforgettable experience. You will never leave this album unscathed, it manages to take something, some part of you with it on every play. And that truly is it’s greatest quality- it’s impeccable ability to be both highly enjoyable and profoundly disturbing simultaneously. If anyone could claim to truly have had a swan song- it’s Bowie. And this is it.
12. Metallica- Hardwired… to Self Destruct
Metallica have not had the best time in the last couple of decades, they’ve always either done something stupid (see Napster scandal) or created albums that have either had questionable mastering choices (see Death Magnetic) or just downright awful (see St. Anger or Lulu). Yet, they still manage to have a good track here or there, and still unquestionably are true masters of the live show. That said, with their new album “Hardwired… to Self Destruct” they have given a real quality mixed bag of their two main eras- the thrash and the ‘faux-country-rock-whatever‘ era from the 90s. It has some real hard hitters (Spit Out the Bone, Hardwired) but for me, the real gems lie in the slower tracks. Personal picks include rumbler “Dream No More“, cheesy yet fun “Murder One” and the longest track on the record “Halo on Fire” which feature some of the best vocals by James Hetfield ever recorded. Sure Metallica is no longer Kill ‘Em All Metallica, but they don’t need to be. This is just a highly entertaining mainstream metal album that I truly have had a lot of fun with. Can’t wait to see them on tour (with BABYMETAL perhaps???).
For better or worse, I personally like both of Metallica’s main eras pretty much equally- and this album really feels like a conclusion to it all. If this ended up being Metallica’s final album, I would be satisfied.
11. Neon Bunny- Stay Gold
Korean indie synth pop/electronic artist Neon Bunny released her newest release “Stay Gold” in July this year, and it is a much more focused, contemplative release than her debut. Lyrically it seems more vulnerable, soul exposing and yet has this kind of strange introversion/disconnect from real life- and it really makes it far more compelling than ever before. It’s slow, gorgeous beats are hypnotic and fantastic to listen to when you want to unwind. It really stands out from the sea of similar music because the production value is so rich and satisfying. There’s no dud tracks to be found throughout the whole album, and its main singles are all impressive works. If you listen to any album from South Korea this year, this should be it.
So there you have it, starting next week, my TOP 10!