As another year closes, so does a year end list get posted into the void that is online music discourse. This list is not a fair depiction of what I really listened to this year. Being weird and isolated in the frozen wasteland of Minnesota had me listening to a lot of old jazz records. I have no recommendations based on that. This isn’t that kind of a blog. No one wants to hear my opinions on jazz fusion (I mostly don’t like it) or smooth jazz (actually pretty cool if you can get over the Weather Channel of it all).
In an attempt to feel less street team, I am focused on actually posting stuff in 2022. I got stuck in a cycle of posting about the same three things. To that point, I’ll post a thing about that new Overo / Zochor / Punch On! / Coma Regalia split next week. That would have probably made the list had it come out earlier. Beyond that, I hope to at least get something out on a regular basis. Just not sure what “regular” means in that regard.
Blah blah blah. The list. Let’s fucking go. Top whatever of whatever. In alphabetical order:
Beach Bunny – “Blame Game” Bnny – “Everything” Bruce Lee Band – “Division In The Heartland” Catbite – “Nice One” The Copyrights – “Alone In A Dome” Dan Vapid and The Cheats – “Escape Velocity” Danz CM – “The Absurdity of Human Existence” Drug Church – “Tawny” Faye Webster – “I Know I’m Funny haha” Floatie – “Voyage Out” Girl K – “Girl K Is For The People” Hospital Bracelet – “South Loop Summer” Japanese Breakfast – “Jubilee” King Woman – “Celestial Blues” La Luz – “La Luz” Laura Stevenson – “Laura Stevenson” Marissa Nadler – “The Path Of The Clouds” Mia Joy – “Spirit Tamer” The Mighty Mighty Bosstones – “When God Was Great” Moontype – “Bodies Of Water” Neighborhood Brats – “Confines Of Life” Parting – “Unmake Me” Pet Symmetry – “Future Suits” PONY – “TV Baby” Real Sickies – “Love Is For Lovers” Regional Justice Center – “Crime and Punishment” Scowl – “How Flowers Grow” Steady Holiday – “Take The Corners Gently” Tashaki Miyaki – “Castaway” Tigers Jaw – “I Won’t Care How You Remember Me” VIAL – “Loudmouth”
This list would probably look different had I listened to everything I was keeping track of. There’s still one shit-million records I need to work through. It’s what it’s, I guess. Anyway. Go pre-order that new Perennial record. That band fucking goes.
It’s hard to believe that Created In The Image Of Suffering is technically the debut full length from King Woman. The evolution from a solo project of Kristina Esfandiari to full band has really only happened over the course of two singles and an EP. The version of King Woman here sounds very far removed from the version that recorded the Degrida single back in 2013. While the earlier releases were definitive King Woman songs, there seemed to be a lot of overlap with what Esfandiari doing in Miserable. The sound was a little darker, but still similar. King Woman evolving into an actual band with other full time members really solidified it as something different. 2015’s Doubt was the turning point. It was evolution.
Created In The Image Of Suffering is a document of that evolution and musical growth. It’s also a perfect example of how King Woman defies genre classification. It has elements of metal, doom, shoegaze, and drone. In a lot of ways it is all of, and none of, those genres. It might piss off some purists, but must be acknowledged. The end result is a sound that is beautifully varied. The band has the chops to be dark and heavy, but they also have the restraint to be light and airy. The guitars can go from melodic and soft to just fucking riffing. Created In The Image Of Suffering is a split of power and vulnerability, not that those things are mutually exclusive. Everything is tied together by Kristina Esfandiari’s vocals. Mysterious and ethereal, but also fucking powerful.
These songs are clearly the result of a very complicated life and history. They are very dense and very cathartic. The biggest mistake is to assume this record is just some angry, brooding thing. There are songs on Created In The Image Of Suffering about the abuse Esfandiari received while in the church, but there are also songs about unrequited love. It is Esfandiari as a songwriter just putting it all out on the record. The tone feels like it might skew one way, but there is so much more happening.
I’ve talked about King Woman and Miserable before on here. Esfandiari is easily one of my favorite artists going right now. Created In The Image Of Suffering has built on everything she’s done before, and is an A+ addition to an already fantastic discography.
I’m keeping this list brief this year. Not too many bells and whistles, or whatever. It’s the end of January, so I really need to just post it. 2015 was a weird fucking year, and I didn’t keep up with this stuff the way I should have. 2016 should be better. Anyway, on with the list.
Top Records of 2015. LPs, EPs, and splits. In alphabetical order:
Adult Mom – “Momentary Lapse Of Happily”
Annabel – “Having It All”
Beach House – “Depression Cherry”
Big Awesome – “Party On”
Blind Mice – “Sunday Songs”
Bong Mountain – “You’re Doin’ Great”
Drowse – “Soon Asleep”
Football, etc. – “Disappear”
Haybaby – “Sleepy Kids”
Island Of Misfit Toys – “I Made You Something”
Jennylee – “Right On!”
Kindling – “Galaxies”
King Woman – “Doubt”
Kind Of Like Spitting / Warren Franklin & The Founding Fathers – “It’s Always Nice To See You”
Long Knives – “This Is Your Life”
mewithoutYou – “Pale Horses”
Pet Symmetry – “Pet Hounds”
Sheer – “Uneasy”
The World Is A Beautiful Place And I Am No Longer Afraid To Die – “Harmlessness”
Kristina Esfandiari has been responsible for some of my favorite music this year. She just released an EP earlier this year, Halloween Dream, as Miserable. Now, as King Woman, we have the Dove / Fond Affections cassette single. It’s her second release under the King Woman moniker. It really reinforces the idea that she is a wellspring of creativity. While she is still best known from her days in Whirr, it’s her solo material that is really worth noting. It is going to be interesting, no matter what it’s released as. She is able to conceptualize music in a way that goes beyond most shoegaze/post-punk/post-rock/whatever. If those genres are built around creating moods in a non-conventional way, then she is one of the best out there right now.
There are a lot of similarities between King Woman and Miserable. This isn’t surprising considering the nature of the projects. Both have very drawn out, ethereal vocals. Both deal heavily in effects and non-traditional music. But, and this is very important, the overall way those pieces fit is very different. Miserable took a more traditional shoegaze sound and beefed it up by including some very dense, heavy music. King Woman deals more in ethereal psychedelia, with some post-punk and psych-folk added for flavor.
There are two songs on the new single. One is an original, one is a cover. The A-side, Dove, spans 15 minutes. It adds a new dimension to what King Woman does. It is a drawn out, slow-burn of a song. It feels more similar to her work as Miserable than it does her earlier King Woman songs. It is expansive and atmospheric. It never gets as dense as Miserable did, but it maintains some of the power. It’s a hauntingly beautiful song.
The B-side is a cover of Rema-Rema’s “Fond Affections.” The King Woman version that appears here is closer to the cover This Mortal Coil did than it is to the original (kind of). It’s a hell of a cover though. While remaining pretty true to the post-punk origins of it, this particular cover is has more a drone influence. It’s moody and engaging in all the best ways.
In fact, “engaging in all the best ways” is a great way to sum up this release as a whole. It is a must listen for anyone who likes their music ambient, unconventional, and experimental. Grab this while you can.**
**As a result of being out on The Native Sound, this is a very limited release if you want it on a physical format. In this case, it’s a cassette with a limited run of 150. If that is something you’re interesting in, better act fast. Otherwise, you’re going to have to get it digitally.**
The first thing I noticed about Halloween Dream is how much beauty and soul there is on the record. While Kristina Esfandari is constantly getting the ex-Whirr tag, her solo material is strong enough to kill that talking point. As a solo artist, as Miserable, she’s made one of the most engaging records I’ve heard in quite some time.
Halloween Dream is record that shows how “atmospheric” doesn’t always mean “light.” Esfandari’s ethereal vocals weave beautifully in and out of reverb heavy, distorted music. When playing this type of music, it’s easy to use the production as a crutch. The denseness can cover up songwriting deficiencies, the reverb, delays, and distortion can make boring music sound less boring. That’s why it’s great when you hear it done right.
It’s easy to get lost in the music. It’s easy to put a record like this on, and just let it take over. One of my favorite parts of the record is how, even without actively listening to the lyrics, you can tell exactly what is going on. Esfandari projects so much with just her vocal delivery. You can hear the emotion, desire, and regret in these songs.
I feel bad calling this just an “insert whatever genre” record. To call it just one thing or another feels too narrow. It can be ambient and melodic in one part, then fucking heavy and dense in another. If I had to call it something, I’m not sure what i’d say. Metallic shoegaze with post-rock flair? Sure, why the fuck not? It’s beautiful.