2. Patton Oswalt Talking for Clapping
Released one the day after his wife, Michelle McNamara, passed away, Patton Oswalt’s seventh comedy special was destined to be viewed through a different lens than originally intended. His bits about the enduring optimism he possesses when raising his daughter, or how stingy his doctor had become with prescribing painkillers, take on a new, eerie meaning (in an interview, Oswalt speculated that his wife may have died from an accidental Xanax overdose). But what makes his 90-minute performance so buoyant and enjoyable is Oswalt’s ability to draw the audience member in, even when his material becomes extremely personal. On Talking for Clapping, Oswalt’s comedy comes off extraordinarily honest and real, completely unaware just how real his life would soon become. Daniel Sylvester
5. Steph Tolev Hot N’ Hungry
On Hot N’ Hungry, the debut from Steph Tolev, the Toronto comedian introduces herself to the world by pointing out every imaginable flaw about herself within the first ten minutes. Making hilarious (and mostly exaggerated) observations about her body hair, gravelly voice and weight, Tolev comes off completely empowered, beating most male comedians at their own self-deprecation game. But what makes Hot N’ Hungry one of the year’s best is how clever her jokes are (about crapping her pants and weighing herself in tuna on a first date), once the listener is acquainted with the pathetic picture Tolev paints of herself. When it comes to Tolev, nothing is off limits, making Hot N’ Hungry a breath of dirty air. Daniel Sylvester
You can just hear Ian William Craig’s mom now: “Honey, you have such a beautiful voice, why are you trying to bury it under all that noise?” But the true appeal of Centres, the third LP from the Edmonton experimentalist, lies not just within his beautiful voice or even all that noise — it’s all about the specific type of texture Craig chooses to construct.
Yes, it’s true that the 36-year-old uses faulty and decrepit tape machines to create his end-days recordings (which is nothing new; see William Basinski) alongside electronic-tinged classical arrangements (see also Hauschka), but there’s something about Craig’s utter dedication to modifying and fucking with every note and every element that makes this 13-track LP so absorbing. Ian William Craig’s tactile obsession with sound gives Centres‘ sweeping moments an eerie feel, its stoic moments an urgent feel. Every vocal comes off like an angelic drone, while every drone sounds like nothing less than the absolute logical choice. Daniel Sylvester
What makes the Avalanches’ Wildflower — the forever-in-the-making follow-up to the Australian turntablists’ 2000 masterpiece, Since I Left You — such a fascinating listen is the bonkers way they approach the album’s samples, themes and collaborators. While many successful electronic artists have used their stature to indiscriminately bring in the biggest guests they can land, the Avalanches dug deep into their contact list, working with artists that best suited the album’s warped vision, from Biz Markie to Toro Y Moi, MF DOOM to Royal Trux’s Jennifer Herrema — hell, they even managed to pull David Berman out of retirement.
The samples used on this 21-track LP are bursting with just as much personality as those on their debut: the goofy “Frankie Sinatra,” for example, is a masterfully stitched earworm that benefited from eternal patience and foresight in clearing both Rodgers and Hammerstein and the Beatles. If Wildflower is what 16 years of hard work gets you, then 2032 should be a good year for quirky electronic music. Daniel Sylvester
Let’s face it — most collaborative albums are known to be largely disappointing. For every Dolly, Linda and Emmylou there are a dozen Dylan & the Deads. So what makes the union of Neko Case, k.d. lang and Laura Veirs work so damn wonderfully? It may be because the trio never seem the least bit interested in being in a supergroup, as they find themselves rather content working to each other’s strengths, crafting something that sounds equally comfortable and invigorating.
Their 14-track debut manages to avoid sounding bloated, as Case, lang and Veirs possess enough musical intelligence to find the simplicity and beauty essential to each track — even the superb group of musical collaborators (including Wilco’s Glenn Kotche, Soul Coughing’s Sebastian Steinberg and producer Tucker Martine) serve the songs the way old-time session players were accustomed to. Expertly showcasing Case’s from-the-rafters delivery, lang’s vintage aesthetic and Veirs’ emotional versatility, case/lang/veirs comes off as the sound of three superstars, not one supergroup. Daniel Sylvester
Six years since her last LP and the first without her backing band, the Johnsons, British chanteuse ANOHNI has abandoned her brand of gentle and sleek chamber folk for something more visceral, both thematically and sonically. Produced by electronic producers Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never, HOPELESSNESS finds ANOHNI turning her pain into a raw, powerful document that holds to task all of humanity, from those who aim to benefit from the misery of others to those who’ve pledged to make the world a better place but have come up short — including herself.
But, as on her earlier work, ANOHNI comes off achingly honest and brave, as she expands her repertoire of recurring themes like environmental ruination and political strife to include topics like drone warfare and masculine violence, and even President Obama isn’t spared from her pointed indignation. Many albums succeed at sounding powerful, but HOPELESSNESS feels it, too. Daniel Sylvester
7. Fuck the Facts Desire Will Rot
Fuck the Facts don’t fuck around. Just listening to the first 30 seconds of “Everywhere Yet Nowhere,” the opening track on Desire Will Rot, it’s clear that the quintet play every note like grindcore’s going to go out of style any minute now. Truth is, though, if grindcore did go out of style (that’s saying that it ever was in style), Fuck the Facts would be completely fine with it.
On their 10th LP, the Ottawa/Gatineau metal band don’t seem as interested in rehashing Napalm Death and Terrorizer’s bloody blueprint as much as they seem obsessed with finding hidden passageways and trap doors within it. Finally benefiting from a stable lineup, Fuck the Facts seem ready to take sweeping chances on Desire Will Rot, the same way they’re comfortable playing with the more subtle elements of their songwriting. They remain one of the leading groups in modern grindcore simply because they’re ready and willing to completely burn it to the ground — on Desire Will Rot, that’s exactly what sounds to be happening. Daniel Sylvester