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Christmas In July By phil locke

Deck the halls with boughs of holly

Fa la la la la la la la…huh?

 No, we haven’t gone crazy with the summer heat. But here at Step On virtual HQ we’ve been talking about our favorite albums of the year so far. And because best-of lists usually pop-up in December, we’ve been having a bit of early Christmas cheer, and we thought we’d share it with you. So here are some of our picks for the musical highlights of January through June 2016.

 

Best Album of the Year (so far): Tired of Tomorrow, by Nothing

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I wrote a review of this album when it was released, so I don’t have much more to add, other than to say that it’s one of those albums where you keep discovering things on repeated listens, so I’m still enjoying it as much as I did when I first heard it.

 Jake Lehman’s take on Tired of Tomorrow:

Negative emotions are channeled effortlessly on this sophomore release by the Philadelphia quartet; but there’s something astoundingly positive in said negativity. Combining elements of shoegaze, hardcore and a strong understanding of what made 90’s alt-rock good, Nothing have secured themselves as one of the most important bands of the decade.

 Jacquie and Dave StepOn’s take on Tired of Tomorrow:

We editors fly the flag of Nothing. May’s second album release, Tired of Tomorrow, introduces some lush production and less tentative vocals while staying within their already established dark brew of nihilism as exorcism for the secret romantic with a side of “substances”. Nothing’s 90’s-referenced sounds and harder roots are essential to today’s new post-punk-post-modern whateverness that is quietly great. This band is finding its footing and its voice. Currently on tour in North America, and soon to be seen on a bill with Jane’s Addiction and Dinosaur Jr in Coney Island—I mean, where else could they meet so perfectly, in July.

 

Best Live Shows of the Year (so far): (No one tours where I live, so for this category I defer to Jacquie StepOn and Jake Lehman)

Jacquie & Dave: Twilight Sad + The Cure @ Bestival Toronto, Nothing, Beliefs and PINS.

The Twilight Sad have been playing smaller stages and touring (they’ve been over to US and Toronto at least a few times from Glasgow) and the size of their music, ideas, heart, and frontman performance (James–very Ian Curtis, very genuinely so) was always built for the bigger stages they are on right now (chosen as The Cure’s opening act for entire massive North American tour) which they’ve excelled at. We wrote about it here (with photos).

 The Cure: Consummate pros. Consummate musicians. Consummate gentlemen. Rose 10 feet higher in my estimation in the face of some exterior challenges in the outdoor / weather setting. Seen them 8 or 9 times since 1986 when I was 16—they’ve never hit a flat note. Never brought drama on stage. Never shorted their fans. In fact, the opposite (this tour is legendary with 4 encores, 40 song set lists etc.) Bestival was slightly abbreviated. We wrote about it here (with photos).

Nothing – Lee’s Palace: We wrote about it here.

Beliefs – The Garrison: We wrote about it here (with photos).

PINS – Mod Club: We wrote about it here (with photos).

Jake Lehman: 1. Nothing – Lee’s Palace 2. Dinosaur Jr. – House of Vans 3. Smashing Pumpkins – Massey Hall 4. The Cure – Bestival 5. Bob Mould – Horseshoe Tavern 6. Speedy Ortiz – Horseshoe Tavern 7. Father John Misty – Massey Hall

 

Best Reunion of the Year (so far): Lush

 Lush! Lush Lush Lush Lush Lush! I wrote an article about what the members of Lush had been up to since the band’s original dissolution, and in it I said that it was unlikely that they’d ever get back together. Turns out I was wrong. Not only have they reunited to play some very well-received live shows, they’ve even released some new music. The Blind Spot EP sounds like the band picking up where Split left off, rather than continuing in the Britpop-influenced vein of Lovelife. I thought Split was an excellent album, so it’s wonderful to see the band returning to that phase of their sound. Honestly, if you played this for me and told me it was a lost EP from the Split sessions, I’d believe it!

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Best Reissue of the Year (so far): Lovesliescrushing – Bloweyelashwish

I will be writing about this as part of a forthcoming series, but it is one of my all-time favorite albums, and it has been reissued through a Kickstarter campaign, and it comes accompanied with a wonderful “remix deconstruction” that I’ll have plenty more to say about later 🙂

 

And here are some individual lists from Step On contributors:

 

Top 26 Albums of the Year (so Far) by phil locke:

 1. NothingTired of Tomorrow

Read my review.

 2. SuedeNight Thoughts

Read my review.

 3. Rob Crow’s Gloomy PlaceYou’re Doomed. Be Nice.

Rob Crow of Thingy, Pinback, Optiganally Yours, Goblin Cock, various other bands, and a bunch of solo releases, is one of my musical heroes. He’s extremely talented, incredibly prolific, and the one time I ever saw him play live he was wearing a sparkly silver dress. Last year he retired from music to devote time to providing for his family, which is certainly an honorable reason to leave, but I was happy to see that he decided to return from retirement with this new release. It’s signature Rob Crow sound in pretty much every way, and that’s a good thing.

 4. 50 Foot WaveBath White

Kristin Hersh  is airing out her punkier side with her wonderful 50 Foot Wave side project. Kristin’s music is fully listener-supported, and we Strange Angels have gotten to hear rough versions of these tracks, and it’s great to have the final, fully-mastered versions. Taut and tight and no-nonsense. And God is not a dick.

 5. JaguwarII

Berlin’s Jaguwar follow up their wonderfully noisy I EP with II. To me this sounds as if they took My Bloody Valentine’s loveless and Isn’t Anything and mixed them together in a blender. And then recorded the blender.

 6. Xiu XiuPlays The Music of Twin Peaks

If you had to pick a TV show to have Xiu Xiu play the music of, wouldn’t it be Twin Peaks?

7. LushBlind Spot

See Best Reunion of the Year above.

8-25 (tie): Car Seat HeadrestTeens Of Denial; I Am Your CaptainGlower; Modern BaseballHoly Ghost; The HotelierGoodness; Venetian SnaresTraditional Synthesizer Music; PupThe Dream Is Over; Tim HeckerLove Streams; Matt ElliottThe Calm Before; MiserableUncontrollable; Mint JulepBroken Devotion; Michael GiraI Am Not This; Lake St. HelensA Life Lived Well In Monochrome; HighasakiteCamp Echo; Future Of The LeftThe Peace And Truth Of Future Of The Left; Fear Of MenFall Forever; DalotMutogibito; CalderaStuck In A Dream Of Being Awake; 93millionmilesromthesun93Live, NAVVIOmni.

 
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Jacquie and Dave StepOn’s 6 Favorite Musical Things of the Year (so far):

 WhimsicalBrought To Light

A heartrending, accomplished vocal style and range (Krissy Vanderwoude) an ear for Alternative music history, and a flair for pure driven Gaze sounds, too? A cover of Slowdive’s “Dagger” that accomplishes what the best (and rare) covers do- to add to the richness of the original, to continue the narrative, to build onto greatness? To sing back? Will be watching everything Whimsical does with their upcoming projects.

 Preoccupations (FKA Viet Cong) “Anxiety” (single released June 2013, album for prerelease)

Darkly beautiful, frightening, witchy and folkloric video and song. Something dark and delicious is brewing in the world right now. I’m too shook to say more. It’s time. The bats are back in the belfry at last.

 D.A.R.K. – “Curvy” (Debut album Science Agrees – released May 2016)

Andy Rourke (ex-The Smiths) Dolores O’Riordan (The Cranberries) & D.J. Olé Koretsky. Promising debut from some greats joining forces as we are all a bit indie now with good results.

 NothingTired of Tomorrow

  RadioheadA Moon Shaped Pool

Let it never be forgotten or smeared in our minds that despite this band doing things their own way forever and giving their earlier albums away for free (rather the choose your own price model, which was interesting) and so earning the endless ire of the bought and paid for “press”, the former critical darlings are still darlings to all us kids who know. The new record A Moon Shaped Pool sees the band playing in their old sandbox of extisential melancholy (a.k.a. perfection) as in this track, “Daydreaming”. They were among the three greatest video bands and this is no exception. It also debuted the beautifully outlaw and subversive “Burn the Witch” which delivers this band’s still needed critique of institutional abuses (see the U.K. and U.S. news right now) with a sweet stop-motion bite. Jonny Greenwood’s acclaimed work as a composer for films (There Will be Blood, The Master) has also found his way into the band’s music, as cinematic as there ever was in the medium.

 AND The Cure has been quietly road testing two new songs on their current tour of North America (which also swings back to UK) “Step into the Light” and “It Can Never Be The Same” or, as described on Robert Smith’s guitar, ITCANNEVERBETHESAME. The latter hits those minor keys that the band basically holds ownership over now, and grabs your heart the same way. In a rotating pool (or is that sea) of possible songs being played on the tour upwards of 100, the debut of new music is an important forward looking statement. New collaboration with newer Cure member Reeves Gabrels (Tin Machine, David Bowie, songwriter, guitarist & producer) is exciting news for all of us out here on the edge of the deep green sea. (Single/Album TBD)

 

Top 7 Albums and Songs of the Year (so far) by Luke Williams (in no particular order):

 Dan ManganUnMake

Vancouver’s Mangan is stellar as always on his short new EP released last month. There is something absolutely hunting about the track “Hang With Me!”

 Hayden CalninCut Love Part 1 and Part 2

The two-part debut of this young Australian mate is my favorite release of 2016 by miles. Those who have been around over the years got exactly what they’ve been waiting for.

 Car Seat Headrest – “Fill in The Blank”

I can’t exactly tell you what it is that I like about the opening track to the opening track from Seattle-based Car Seat Headrest’s latest album. However, I can tell you that I am undoubtedly in love with this song.

 Donovan Woods – “Leaving Nashville

Toronto-based folk singer, Donovan Woods, is no stranger to being brutally honest with his songs. “Leaving Nashville,” is by far one of his most honest to date.

 The Darcys – “Miracle”

It is a miracle that we have a new song from these Torontonians at all! This bass heavy banger is without a doubt the best 80’s pop song to be written in 2016.

 Great Good Fine OK – “Already Love”

These gents have yet to release a song that I haven’t been down with. However, the moment this single came out you could say the feelings I had towards it were already love.

 Say Anything – “Attaboy”: Max Bemis is known for two things: self-depreciation and sarcasm. The opening of this tune demonstrates the first point as the Jewish musician and comic book fan self-depreciates using Batman and references to the bible. Then makes fun of a friend who decided to give up music and become a doctor. The same friend appears at the end of the song yelling in the background.

 

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Top 10 Albums and Songs of the Year (so far) by Jake Lehmann, vocalist and guitarist of Toronto-based band Tonemirror and an avid music junkie. www.tonemirror.bandcamp.com

 1. NothingTired of Tomorrow

Negative emotions are channeled effortlessly on this sophomore release by the Philadelphia quartet; but there’s something astoundingly positive in said negativity. Combining elements of shoegaze, hardcore and a strong understanding of what made 90’s alt-rock good, Nothing have secured themselves as one of the most important bands of the decade.

 2. RadioheadA Moon Shaped Pool

Another album that finds a band pushing their sound in new directions. However, on A Moon Shaped Pool, Radiohead push the very definition of Rock music to its absolute limits with this classically influenced album.

 3. Dinosaur Jr. – “Tiny”

An instant Dino classic, plus a fantastic music video. J Mascis skateboarding with a Bulldog, what more could you ask for?

 4. The Tragically HipMan Machine Poem

Man Machine Poem finds the Tragically Hip pushing the boundaries of their sound farther than they ever have on what could tragically be their last album.

 5. GreysOuter Heaven

Outer Heaven shows Toronto-based Greys channeling a little less Nirvana and a little more Sonic Youth on this mature sophomore release.

 6. DIIVIs The Is Are

On the long-awaited follow up to their stellar debut Oshin, DIIV does not disappoint with the lush and dreamy tones of Is The Is Are. The new record even manages to surpass the beloved debut in many ways!

 7. KOOPA – “Teenager”

Toronto indie kids KOOPA really capture the laid-back ways of youth on this super catchy track. Fair warning, this will stick in your head for days.

 8. Pity SexWhite Hot Moon

Pity Sex masterfully combine gritty shoegaze and indie elements with just a sprinkle of old-school emo to create the gorgeous sounds of White Hot Moon.

 9. Bob MouldPatch The Sky

80’s alternative pioneer Bob Mould proves he can still rock with the best of them on this banger of a record (but if you really needed proof, catch a live show of his, you will believe).

 10. YuckStranger Things

On their third record, Yuck seem to have finally found the perfect balance between fuzzed out rockers and dreamier ballads.

With contributions from Jacqueline Howell, Dave MacIntyre, Luke Williams and Jake Lehman.

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