(2016 was the year when I discovered Montréal’s Tumbleweed Dealer through their extremely cool third album Tokes, Hatred & Caffeine (and I’m still trying to be patient while waiting for TD4). The band’s main man Seb Painchaud has very expansive and very eclectic musical tastes, and a way with words, and so for a third year I asked him to share a year-end list with us. As before, he pulls us off our usual beaten paths by highlighting some favorite releases that are way outside the usual metal lists… including a lot of very interesting Not-Metal.)
So this year we’re going to call it a Top 20 Albums You Should Check Out. If I were to make a top 20 list, I’d waste a lot of space telling you about albums you’ve already heard and will be present on every other list you read. Do you really need to see me overcompensate for my limited vocabulary with swear words to explain that Frontierer and Sectioned dominated the scene with their amazing albums? If so, then here you go: Fuck a cock on a stick its god damn fuck your mother fucking good.
And when you have every established music website and magazine tripping over themselves to talk to you about The Armed, you don’t really need me adding to it. Do we need to discuss Mol? You either hate it or love it, but you probably know about it. And all the big tech death bands released great records that pushed the limits of the human body this year. Only one remembered to include amazing song writing. Let’s not get into a shouting match over which one it was.
It was Obscura. Those Cynic-like robot vocal hooks had me going back for more all year long, Fight me if you don’t agree.
So here is my ‘Top 20 Albums You Might’ve Missed This Year’ (yes the title changed since the opening line).
20. Idle Hands – Don’t Waste Your Time
To win my friend over on this amazing EP I told him to imagine if Beastmilk had fucked with Eternal Champion to make a gothic ’80s baby that wore fur underwear. If that doesn’t entice you to give it a listen then you are clearly dead inside.
19. Glorior Belli – The Apostates
Why are people sleeping on this amazing record? I was disappointed that their last offering was devoid of their southern charm and consisted mostly of melodic black metal, but this one more than makes up for it. The bluesy vibes now channel an epicness that wasn’t present before in their sound. This is their best work yet. The closing track is the highlight of the album.
18. Weedpecker – III
I think this album isn’t making a lot of lists simply because it was released so early in the year. If you’re like me, you’ve overdosed on by-the-numbers stoner metal bands. This album infused the formula with a touch of psychedelic and prog rock, genres that have been incorporated before into this sound, but not as tastefully as on this album.
17. All Traps On Earth – A Drop Of Light
I’m a huge fan of the Scandinavian Prog Revival sound, so they had me at ex-Anglagard. They kept me because this surpasses that band’s post-reunion record. They basically kept the same sound, but they get to business quicker and stay there, unlike their predecessors who would go into almost ambient-like levels of activity for minutes at a time.
16. JYOCHO – 美しい終末サイクル
Daijiro Nakagawa is one of my favorite guitarists ever. From his work with his former band Uchu Conbini, mixing math rock with j-pop sensibilities, to the insane riffs he posts on Instagram playing both electric and acoustic guitar, the guy encompasses everything I love about math rock riffing. His new band, JYOCHO, picks up where he had left off, infusing post-rock into the mix, keeping the overall atmosphere light and airy, augmented by the female vocals and flute, while he taps away some of the most complex licks you’ve ever heard.
The kind of record you can turn your brain off and just listen and enjoy, or turn it on and notice the disjointed rhythms in odd time signatures and insane guitar work that lurks underneath. You either walk away infused with the courage to face your day, like only an anime closing song can inspire, or depressed at how much practice you need to put in on your instrument to ever aspire to that level of musicianship.
15. Moss Upon The Skull – In Vengeful Reverence
In a year that was, for me anyways, dominated by OSDM releases, this album stands over all of it. While other releases like Tomb Mold, Outer Heaven, and Genocide Pact are getting all the year-end press, and deservingly so, I find this album mixes all the elements that all these bands brought to the table perfectly, being the only one to touch on all of ’em at once in a cohesive effort. The band manages to mix old school vibes with a bit of technicality, a bit of dissonance, and a lot of get-your-head-banging catchiness and groove.
14. Robohands – Green
This album has a sound that immediately transports me to the early 2000s when I lived in a loft in downtown New York and would stay up to 2 A.M. working on my novel, inspired by nothing but the sounds of the city coming in through my window. Except none of that ever happened and I’ve never been to NY. That’s how powerful this record is.
You’ll be surprised at how often you’re drawn back to this minimalist jazz record that fuses simple jazz melodies over a hip-hop influenced back beat. I was curious enough to look up a video of him (yes, this is a one man project, making it that much more impressive) drumming to see if it was sampled or played live, and seeing this video of his drum work and the ways he emulates a drum machine on a real drum to get that exact sound is what really sold me on this record.
13. Grivo – Elude
This band walks the line between typical MBV worship reverb-drenched shoegaze and the riffier brand of depressed, downtrodden music that True Widow brought us. The way they easily switch between the two sounds is simple yet genius, combining both elements in different quantities in order to make for an album that is varied yet focused. It hits the same spot as Cloakroom’s debut EP and Nothing’s zenith release of Tired Of Tomorrow, yet it seems to do so without the band having an actual influence from heavier music. It sounds like it just ended up being that damn heavy through amazing compositions and production rather than by design, making it a feat in itself that they could do so while not relying on any tropes of the heavier genres.
12. Koenjihyakkei – DHORIMVISKHA
I’ve been a fan of these guys since their album Angherr Shisspa came out in 2005. Their brand of Magma-On-Cocaine Zeuhl (if that reference means nothing to you, then go on YouTube, search Mekanik Destruktiw Kommandoh, and in 38min52sec you’ll be compelled to send me a personalized thank-you note for introducing you to the forefathers of this obscure offshoot of prog rock) walks that fine line where it’s weird for the sake of weird while remaining artistically enjoyable and never crosses into whacky cringy territory. These are complex compositions crafted with precision. No one lays down an odd metered groove with jazz scats like these guys!
11. Wake – Misery Rites
This is one of the two bands on my list that I do see on a lot of other people’s top albums, yet I’ve decided to include them anyway. This album is just a slab of mean with a heavy side of fucking angry. I couldn’t bring into words what exactly sets them apart from any other worthy grind record this year. It’s just better. The riffs, the atmosphere, the production, it all works together in a violent way that none of those other records managed to attain.
10. Murphy Radio – Murphy Radio
This Indonesian math rock band aims for the feel good vibes and hit their mark every time. It’s Midwestern Emo worship at its finest, yet unlike Chinese Football, it’s not all tribute and has substance of its own. Most of it is instrumental, and goes through all the prerequisite Midwestern emo parts like that one gang vocal sung chorus, the obligatory electronic drum and bass influenced part, and tons of twinkling guitar parts, but does them all with enough gusto that it never feels like they are paying tribute to anything, just doing their own version of it and putting everything they have into it.
9. Shake Stew – Rise And Rise Again
Jazz for people who aren’t big jazz fans, these guys go for the catchy back beats of afro beat funk and add fun repetitive melodies and counter-melodies over them. It surges into epic bursts only to disintegrate back into minimalist parts for the saxophone to solo over just so they can build everything back up into another massive burst and bring back the main theme of the song and hit that sweet spot. This album won’t get your head banging but you’ll find yourself nodding back and forth as a show both of appreciation and as a way of saying Do Not Stop This Fucking Song For The Life Of Me.
8. The Aftermath – Vermine
Several years ago (I’m a make an educated guess and say around 2011) I went to Quebec City to see some friends and get hammered to the point of no return. The following day, as a useless mass of hungover flesh, I tagged along as we visited Studio Broil where its owner proceeded to play us a few tracks off this album. I was blown away at the brutality and technicality of the material he was playing us.
Fast Forward about 7 years and I had assumed the project was dissolved and I’d never get to hear the finished product. I was stoked to see it finally released this year, and to be honest, it was better than I remembered. It’s like Cephalic Carnage and Cattle Decapitation had a kid that grew up to resent them and be angrier than either band ever dreamed (or had nightmares) of being.
7. He Was Eaten By Owls – Inchoate With The Light Go I
I had really enjoyed this band’s debut record, a nice and intricate mix of math rock and jazz experimentation. I was sure I’d enjoy the new record as much, but I was blown away at what I got. This album is more of an orchestrated indie rock masterpiece than anything that fits the boundaries set by their first release. I’ve been describing this one as ‘2018 Indie Rock’s version of King Crimson’s Islands’ as it touches on the same orchestral rock that’s experimental yet still very much melody-focused and lyrical. This was a massive undertaking (which I somewhat followed through their Facebook and Instagram posts) that could’ve failed miserably, a huge gamble that could’ve easily turned into a piece of pretentious garbage, but they pulled it off. This is what Arcade Fire fans think they hear when they listen to Arcade Fire.
6. Cypecore – The Alliance
I’m 38, so I grew up in the mid ’90s with the boom of Gothenburg masterpieces coming out. I’ve been an In Flames fan for more than half my life. Of course, at first, I hated their new direction (don’t worry I’m getting there) but grew to love it with time. I now firmly believe that had Reroute To Remain been all killer (“System”, “Trigger”, “Cloud Connected”) and no filler (“Drifter”, “Transparent”), it’d be by far their best release. These guys take that sound and lean into the industrial Rammstein elements, and thankfully leave the emo whiny vocals aside.
This record is better than it has a right to be. It adds nothing new to an existing formula, yet here it sits at number 6 because it’s just that damn fucking good. Every song on this album could’ve been the lead single. Every chorus will have you singing along. Every new riff will have you hitting the person next you in the car and saying ‘Listen, listen, this is the best part of the whole fucking album’ only to repeat this action during the following song.
5. GoGo Penguin – A Humdrum Star
Beautifully sad, melancholic piano-led jazz of the chill-up-your-spine variety. The kind of album you love and recommend yet don’t listen to that often as it is a heavy and laboring undertaking that leaves you emotionally exhausted. Just the opening chords of the second track, “Raven”, will bring a wave of nostalgia on its second listen since you will know the journey you are embarking upon and the roller coaster of emotions you will have therein. I’m not swearing and attempting to put some effort into my description, that’s how good this record is. It’s just that damn fucking good (one can only try so hard…).
4. Monobody – Raytracing
These guys have been on my radar ever since their first release. Midway between jazz and math rock, they had put out an amazing debut record and EP, but nothing could prepare me for the sonic onslaught that would be this new album. The complex unison line and composition work I love so much in ’70s jazz rock gets a modern update and then tossed in there with electronic ambiences and coated in a math rock glazing of sugary goodness. It’s ambitious when it needs to be and laid back when it doesn’t, yet holds the listener’s attention constantly. A very modern take on Yes’ Relayer album is about as close as words can come to summarizing it.
3. Journal – Chrysalis Ordalias
With all the love Frontierer and Rolo Tomassi are getting, this album is getting left behind when people discuss this year’s mathcore offerings. What I love about Journal is that they embrace both sides of the math, going from frenetic chaotic dissonant mathcore passages to major scale upbeat math rock passages and melding the two together masterfully. It creates something pretty so it can shit on it afterwards, and makes darkness so the following light can shine brighter. In the world of brutal progressive music, whether its mathcore or tech death, it’s rare to see a band embrace this contrast. These guys do it, and they pull it off on this insanely long and diverse record.
2. Respire – Dénouement
I mentioned before that there would be a second record on the list that is actually getting recognition, and this is it. I still felt compelled to include it. The line between screamo and post black metal keeps getting thinner, and these guys have taken residence upon that divide and brought horns and strings with them. Every single second of this recording is emotionally engaging yet never manipulative. It’s simply mournfully amazing, taking the best of several genres, from the ones mentioned before to post-rock and post-metal, and puts it all together to pull you in for a heartfelt ride through genuine feelings put into music.
1. Revolting – Monolith Of Madness
Throughout this list I’ve overused the words beautiful, complexity, and composition, as a lot of these albums bring a myriad of different subtleties to the table that I find enjoyable as an artist. If you compare them to surgeons using surgical blades to make precise incisions after years of studying and training, this record is a blunt object to the motherfucking skull. And as is the case with my rankings, getting hit in the face with a sledgehammer leaves more of an impression than any medical intervention can.
This album is just all balls. Old School Swedish Death Metal done right. If you loved Edge Of Sanity before Crimson, then you’ll understand why this album filled a void that had been empty for years. They took Swanö’s melodic and catchy yet still fully death metal approach and mastered it. I could make a compilation of my favorite EoS songs such as “Twilight”, “Hell Is Where the Heart Is”, and “Eternal Eclipse”, compare it to this album, and it would still hold up.
This is the filler-less, all-singles album EoS should’ve given us instead of the uneven Infernal. If you loved them as much as I did, you understand why an album that fills that void that was left inside of me for such a recording deserves the number one spot. And, for all my attempts at using fancy words and metaphors to describe the other albums on this list, this one beats them all out on one important point: I played it twice as much as anything else this year.
I’ll be posting 100+ other albums I enjoyed this year on my instagram so follow me at https://www.instagram.com/tumbleweeddealer/