Unwinnable Listens to the Best Music of 2016 – Finale

The Rules: 
Set the Unwinnable Best Music of 2016 playlist on random.
Listen to nothing else for all of January.
Cling to sanity. 
Write about it.

Next week, we switch it up, either exploring all the albums we enjoyed, or diving deep into the albums we hate.

Read: Prelude, Part One, Part Two, Part Three

———

As soon as the final week started, I purged all the music I hated from the Best of 2016 list. No more hip hop. No more sleepy folk. No more of that Joan Baez wannabe. Or Joni Mitchell. Whatever. Like last year, it immediately became a much more pleasant listening experience.

I noted some interesting differences. I only have 36 or so albums in my truncated playlist this year, as opposed to nearly 50 last year. This tells me that, collectively, Unwinnable’s taste in music has gotten worse. Good job, gang. Last year, I went the entire challenge never hearing one album: the very good Leon Bridges debut. This year, I found about ten albums that never played (could be more, a lot of the female vocals this year sound very samey to me). Of those tenish albums, only one (Parker Milsap) interested me enough to put it on the edited list though, so I guess good job, Spotify, for sinking those other albums.

Something I did this year that I didn’t do? I wound up going through my edit list and edited some more. Stuff I thought I didn’t mind turned out to be grating once I gave it a close listen. See ya, Metallica, Sturgill Simpson, NOFX, Stranger Things soundtrack, Autolux and, sadly, Parker Milsap. I barely knew ya, man. Last year, I was introduced to La Luz, Tame Impala, Leon Bridges and rediscovered Les Butcherettes. This year, nothing got me excited quite like they did.

This year wasn’t all disappointment, though. I filed more songs to my personal playlists over the course of this year’s challenge than I did last year. I took a couple minutes to look through my edited list from last year and my reaction to many albums was twofold: I don’t remember this at all and I can’t believe I thought I liked this (the latter is particularly strange sensation). This year, the stuff that made my final are solid cuts that expand on my established interests. I like having SubRosa and Wye Oak pushing the boundaries of my doomy metal palette. 36 and Tortoise added to my bloopy electronic jams. Shearwater’s some solid indie rock. The Russian Circles album reminded me that I like Russian Circles. The Pretenders album taught me that I am at an age that I can hear Chrissie Hynde and not want to turn her off. The Frightnrs might be the biggest surprise, tapping into a specific retro reggae vibe I dig on. None of that is world changing. These are all workhorse songs, they get the job done. Yet, it seems less likely I will forget all these bands in three months the way I did last year.

I dunno. I don’t think I like this challenge. It upends the way I listen to music, something that is important to how I work and, you know, live. I think it messed with my overall enjoyment of music last year. That’s bound to happen again this year, most likely. But fuck it. It is over, so now I can finally listen to the new Darkest of the Hillside Thickets album.

Stu Horvath

 

I used to like Kanye West; I used to like him a lot. College Dropout, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and Watch the Throne are still among my favorite all-time hip hop albums. The bits of Life of Pablo I heard sprinkled throughout my Unwinnable Mixtape experience were equal parts frustrating and disturbing as I pined for the brilliance I once enjoyed from Kanye and wondered, “What the hell happened?” respectively. I have to say that ultimately I was surprised by the experience of listening to it as it was intended; unlike Yeezus, this album was sort of redeeming as on the whole, it was MUCH better than its parts. This isn’t to say that I enjoyed it, as I still found myself taking quiet breaks to relieve the tension headache caused by me gritting my teeth, but let’s say I didn’t hate it as much I expected to.

I probably should have gone with my gut and listened to untitled unmastered by Kendrick Lamar instead, but after last year’s experience, I guess a part of me just didn’t want to consume that much Advil again due to this endeavor.

The best part about music is the discovery and experimentation – this often causes a Catch 22 of sorts because I want artists to push their talents and expand their creativity, but I don’t want them to make things I don’t like.

Here’s to next year!

Erik Weinbrecht

 

Well, I caved. I could not, as the kids say, hang.

At first it was a matter of practicality. I’ve spent the last two weeks moving across the country: getting a roommate scouting apartments,  signing paperwork, assembling furniture, and just generally adjusting to life in New York again. I didn’t actually have much time to sit down and listen to music, which is how I prefer it, and I don’t have Spotify premium, so listening on trains was right out. I hung in there almost entirely by technicality.

This Friday, though, the new P. O. S. album (Chill, Dummy) dropped on my unsuspecting head and, well, I was helpless. How could I not?

So mark me down as one of the flaky masses… (But do go listen to Chill, Dummy; it’s top notch stuff. Worth evolution of one of my favorite hip-hop artists)

Austin Price

 

It turns out: I could not hang. I exclusively listen to music on car rides and this week would have been no different. Except that I upgraded my phone to a new one which did not agree with the aux jack in my car. Violently did not agree.

So I didn’t listen to a single beat of the 2016 Playlist this week. I have let you all down.

Amanda Hudgins

 

I made a Google Play Music playlist of the stuff I liked most. The big winners: Shearwater, Alcest, Plini (occasionally gets a little too djent for my tastes, but…) and Sumerlands.

Don Becker

 

I’ve had a lot of stuff on my plate recently, so I’m going to keep this short. There’s a handy dandy playlist featuring some of my favorite songs here. If you want to see my last few Twitter updates as well as everyone else’s Twitter takes on the challenge, check out the #UWCanYouHang tag! It’s been a pleasure.

Melissa King

 

I am appalled at the lack of ability to hang this week. What else could any of you have to worry about besides listening to the same 1,400+ songs you’ve heard for the past three weeks?!

Confession: throughout the entire challenge, I allowed myself full use of my vinyl collection. If I listened to anything electronically, it was the playlist. At home? We’re talking Patsy Cline’s Showcase, Bridge Over Troubled Water, The Dark Side of the Moon, Innervisions, Born in the U.S.A., and some newer stuff, even. My record collection was my island in the stream(ing music service). I did not listen to “Islands in the Stream,” however. No Dolly Parton in my collection, sadly. Does this mean that I, too, was unable to hang? Yes, it probably does. I’m in good company, at least.

This year’s playlist had a distinct lack of an album I hated, which might actually be unfortunate. Without a lowest low, I couldn’t ever really reach a highest high. Although, leave it to me to complain because things are generally pleasant. How do you people put up with me?

Favorite albums that weren’t my own contributions that I’m saving for future listening sessions: Miss Sharon Jones! by Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, Higher Time by Electric Citizen, Starboy by The Weeknd, For This We Fought the Battle of the Ages by SubRosa, Desire’s Magic Theatre by Purson, We Got It from Here… Thank You 4 Your Service by A Tribe Called Quest, Xiu Xiu Plays the Music of Twin Peaks, and Running Out of Love by The Radio Dept.

Runners-up include Wildflower by The Avalanches (there’s no “Frontier Psychiatrist” analog to be found here and I think maybe we, as a society, will never reach that particularly high height ever again), The Reckoning by Kursse, and The Uncanny by Ruby Rae. I feel slightly weird about including the last two because there are Unwinnable peeps at least partially responsible for each, but hand to god: more than once I found myself grooving to a song, pulled out my phone to check out what I was listening to, and found one or the other of these albums staring me down.

I will not apologize for Unwinnable being home to talented people! Maybe if I stand next to them at the party someone will count me among their number!

Sara Clemens

 

After a tough life week I jumped right back into the challenge, but this time I decided to abide by my own rules. I want a taste of every album, but there is way too much on this list. Instead of making a playlist of all my favorites or artists that didn’t cross my path, I started listening to the list in alphabetical order and allowed myself to skip tracks just so I can hear a few songs from every album.

I think I made it about a third of the way through before I had to finalize my thoughts. I knew David Bowie, Sharon Jones, A Tribe Called Quest and Nick Cave were going to put forth some great albums and that they did. I really dig 36, Xiu Xiu, The Avalanches and Ital Tek and, like Stu, a lot of tracks from this playlist has made it onto numerous of my personal playlists.

I’m glad I survived another playlist and I’m not sure what to think of it either. Last year’s list certainly left me a bit jarring but I found this years mix to be rather palatable. I don’t think anyone one of us picked anything bad and it just goes to show how diverse we are as a group. I think that in itself is pretty awesome.

Ken Lucas

 

The world is a total pigfuck right now. Our political and civic institutions are crumbling around us and many of us are consumed with anxiety and worry. What better way to cope than to force yourself to listen to music chosen by people with drastically different tastes? Last year, since I missed the first week of the CYH?C®, it only seemed right to punish myself by spending the final week listening to music I hated while everyone else enjoyed their favorite new finds. And I found plenty to listen to. I still have hate in my heart for RP Boo and I don’t even remember what the music sounded like.

The Best Music of 2016 CYH?C® was far more mellow. I’ve come across nothing this year that grated on me as much as the singer’s voice from Gruesome or the existence of Prurient did last year. I was surprised by the high percentage of chill selections, but I decided to embrace it. Plus, I could use the assistance getting to sleep. I added the following bands to my final week’s playlist because something I heard made me mark them down as drowsy and/or boring in some way: MONO, 36, Tobacco, Enemies, Murcof/Vanessa Wagner, Grizfolk and ZAYN.

I tried my best to let the (mostly) quiet nothingness of this playlist wash over me. I was able to go long stretches without noticing music was playing at all. More than once I spaced out assuming I missed 4 or 5 songs only to discover I was only 14 minutes into a 20 minute perfect storm of bland and repetitive. It might have been the playlist I needed in these trying times. Thank goodness it’s over.

Here are some final thoughts on the bands I listened to:

MONO can make some epic music. Their guitarist is a master of using effects to achieve a certain sound. Unfortunately, for me, that sound often slips into a slurry of aimless noise. MONO are considerable musicians and I bet it would be fun to jam with them if I could get enough vacation time from work to do so.

36 is a lot of random notes and noises. All of the songs are just named Room with a number. “Room 3” sounds just like “Room 8” and both remind you of “Room 2.” It’s like walking from one room to the next and while they appear identical something seems off. Is it the curtains? Is it the location of the ottoman? It’s a maze of ambience. Great for falling asleep!

Tobacco is not slow and often not quiet. It is all pretty irritating though. The song Dimensional Hum can get fucked. The rest of the songs would fit perfectly as the music for a movie montage where a character does a bunch of drugs and plays videogames for 47 straight hours. Just say no, kids. To listening to Tobacco. Doing drugs is your call. Who am I to judge? Just be safe. But seriously, don’t listen to Tobacco.

Enemies is a lot of drowsy plinking and plunking. When there are lyrics, the words are indecipherable and distant. I could imagine seeing this band in a coffee shop, playing and slowly swaying while people sipped their coffees and also got a massage at the same time. The songs that are bouncy and energetic sound like music for a commercial about Bluetooth headphones or an online university. Not my cup of tea, but very relaxing.

Murcof/Vanessa Wagner is interesting. A few of their songs are nothing but awful noises and sometimes they take interminably long pauses between notes, but I think I appreciate the modern classicalness of their music. And some of their songs are nine minutes of ethereal blah that made me sleepy af, which can be nice.

Grizfolk is another band that isn’t sleepy, but to my judgmental and self-righteous ears, it is pretty generic. At any given moment, somewhere on this planet, a song from this album is playing at a Gap or a Banana Republic or some other such establishment. I’ve also concluded that this is the worst band name on the list. Not sure if it’s the “folk” that bothers me so much or the fact that I want it to be spelled with two z’s like “grizzly.” It’s probably just because it’s a stupid name. My apologies to the band I made fun of a few weeks ago, Motorcycle Side Car.

Zayn’s music is totally disposable. It goes in one ear and out the other, which is great because you don’t want the lyrics from dRuNk in your head for any length of time. And don’t get me started on the names of these songs. I assume this guy is 14 years old, but the way the song titles are typed out seems like an old person’s attempt to sound young by co-opting tween texting habits. It’s something Madonna would have done a decade ago. I yelled, “Oh go fuck yourself,” out loud to nobody in particular when I looked over at my phone and saw that the name of the song playing was “lUcOzAdE.” gO fUcK yOuRsElF, zAyN.

Ed Coleman

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