Underrated Releases of 2016: Shrout Weighs in on Under-the-Radar Music

BADBADNOTGOOD, a group Shrout enjoys. Photo courtesy of commons.wikipedia.org.

I try to listen to as much new music as possible, like a mangy raccoon ruffling through someone’s trash to find those sweet, sweet morsels of stale pizza. Most of you have friends, family and loved ones, so you may have been too busy to listen to some of the more overlooked gems of 2016. I … I wasn’t.


The Canadian jazz fusion group returned with their fourth studio album this year (fifth if you count their Ghostface Killah collaboration “Sour Soul”), and with it, they brought a new band member in the form of longtime co-conspirator and multi-instrumentalist Leland Whitty. The now-quartet’s rigid compositions are a carryover from their 2014 album “III,” with even fuller and more varied instrumentation than its pseudo-electronic predecessor. It’s hard not to miss the wild improvisation of the group’s first two albums, but they more than make up for that with superior recording and mixing and a bevy of great features from the likes of Future Islands vocalist Sam Herring, saxophonist Colin Stetson and independent rapper Mick Jenkins.

“Slow Forever” by Cobalt

With “Slow Forever,” black metal duo Cobalt has consolidated a wide swath of styles and influences under the umbrella of their primary genre. “Slow Forever” embodies the edge of hardcore punk, the crushing aggression of thrash metal and the frenetic energy of noise rock. The result is an effectively dynamic spin on a genre that, given its decades-long history, often runs the risk of going stale. Cobalt refuses to let that happen.

“At Least for Now” by Benjamin Clementine

Spoken word is a genre in which I seldom dabble, but Benjamin Clementine, excruciatingly gorgeous a poet as he is, elevates basic spoken word with haunting chamber pop instrumentals. As a speaker, Clementine’s delivery falls somewhere in between the conversational nature of Leonard Cohen in his later years and the eerie emptiness of James Blake. “At Least for Now” is often crushingly morose and profoundly cutting, but it smartly avoids becoming hampered by tawdriness and is never less than absolutely resonant in its honesty and humanity. 

“Nonagon Infinity” by King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard

An interesting experiment in psychedelic rock, “Nonagon Infinity” operates as a sort of Möbius strip; every track leads almost perfectly into the next, and at the end of the album, it loops back around to the beginning. As such, there’s a consistently present aesthetic that could easily degrade into humdrum redundancy, but leaps over such a pitfall with grace, poise and the peculiarity of a David Byrne or Ariel Pink. What the perfectly-named King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard has on their hands with “Nonagon Infinity” is an album that bleeds psychedelia from front to back and then back to front.

“The Healing Component” by Mick Jenkins

Mick Jenkins’s introspective baritone rides the line between hard-nose grit and ethereal wisdom; it’s always been a defining characteristic for Jenkins, who has the lyrical dexterity to dismantle opponents and the breadth of intelligence to deconstruct broader philosophical ideas. The beats are watery, occasionally tropical and never without bounce. After a stellar debut mixtape and a follow-up extended play that made the case for Jenkins’s continued relevance in the underground hip-hop scene, “The Healing Component” establishes Jenkins as an ideologically and musically consistent artist unwilling to sacrifice his signature ethos for the sake of mainstream appeal.