A.V. Club Most Read

From Train to Star Wars electronica, this is 2016’s least essential music

Ace Frehley, Origins Vol. 1 cover
Ace Frehley, Origins Vol. 1 cover

While The A.V. Club spends much of December praising the year’s best works, it’s also a time to reflect on the ones that left us scratching our heads. This isn’t necessarily the worst music of the year, but these albums left lingering questions about why they exist and who they are for. Dive in, friend: This is the least essential music of 2016.

Ace Frehley, Origins, Vol. 1

Covers have been a staple of Ace Frehley’s repertoire since his first eponymous solo album, when his rendition of Hello’s “New York Groove” became a surprise hit. But while all of the former KISS guitarist’s records have featured a cover of some sort, it’s doubtful anyone was clamoring for an entire album of them—besides Frehley’s label, that is, which suggested he throw one together as a failsafe, just in case 2014’s Space Invader wasn’t ready in time to capitalize on KISS’ Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction. Of course, it was, which only makes the release of Origins, Vol. 1 even more inessential, unless you simply haven’t heard enough versions of “Wild Thing,” “Street Fighting Man,” or “Magic Carpet Ride,” and you live in some remote village deprived of dad-fronted bar bands. For everyone else, if you’re not that intrigued by the guest list—which runs the excitement gamut from “Huh, Slash is on this” to “Rob Zombie’s guitarist John 5”—well, maybe you’re stoked to hear Frehley cover three whole KISS songs? Or to listen to his reunion with estranged former bandmate Paul Stanley, a historic, hatchet-burying summit that reportedly took place via mail? If so, chances are you’re already a KISS completist, which means you probably would have bought this even if it were just a recording of Frehley meeting with his attorneys. Fortunately for you, there’s no limit to the classic rock chestnuts that Frehley can rehash across future Origins volumes, potentially making this a perennial “least essential” contender. [Sean O’Neal]

Blue Man Group, “Giacometti/Ready Go”

Although the Blue Man Group has somehow managed to release five—count ’em, five—full-length records, that still doesn’t mean that we, the citizens of the world, still really need to hear new music from them. But that’s not what Rhino Records thought when it released the 7-inch single “Giocometti/Ready Go” earlier this year. A couple of trippy, didgeridoo-laced tracks from a group that’s best known for being voiceless, wide-eyed, and blue-faced, “Giocometti/Ready Go” is the kind of pointless release that makes us mad not just because the music is so bad, but also because of how much time was wasted by the overtaxed record plants that had to make “a limited 5,000 copies” of this dumb record. Sure, the plants got paid, but other, better records had to sit on the sidelines as ancient presses churned out biscuit after biscuit of this inane pap. Blech. [Marah Eakin]

Transformers Roll Out

Roll Out is presented as a general-purpose paean to Transformers. Unaffiliated with any particular iteration of the show, movies, or toys, it’s just an all-around celebration of Hasbro’s incredibly durable intellectual property. There’s not much in this collection of lukewarm, guitar-driven alt-rock that really invokes the theme of being a robot and also a car—an occasional “Cybertron” here, an allusion to having a computer chip on your head there. All songs were written specifically for the album except Bush’s This House Is On Fire,” which is taken from the band’s 2014 album, Man On The Run. So if this album is essential for anything, it’s to chart Bush’s exact career location at contributing to, but still not writing for, an album about tape recorders that are also super-violent warriors. [Nick Wanserski]

Sublime vinyl box set with 3-D artwork

There are plenty of great vinyl box sets that have been released in the past few years, some of which were chronicled in this year’s holiday gift guide, all of which seemed to serve some sort of need. Following the death of singer-guitarist Bradley Nowell 20 years ago, the well of Sublime music has run dry, but the band keeps finding new ways to trot out the albums over and over again. With the box set boasting 3-D prints of album art and some live recordings thrown in, it’s not providing anything new—unless trippy artwork is what Sublime’s catalog has been missing all along. [David Anthony]

Darren Barrett & Trumpet Vibes, The Music Of Amy Winehouse

To call this album a series of trumpet covers of Amy Winehouse songs is somehow both accurate and entirely misleading. While these tracks are the product of trumpeter Darren Barrett working to rearrange these songs with the Trumpet Vibes ensemble, the addition of singer Joanna Teters just makes them sound like early demos from Winehouse’s vault. Occasionally, a trumpet will step in for Teters, but it’s often hard to understand what benefit there is to a trumpet mimicking a vocal melody. It’s even more confounding why there is a trumpet cover of Amy Winehouse’s cover of “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.” It’s a cover of a cover with a trumpet instead of vocals and typing this sentence, I realized it’s actually the best record of 2016. [David Anthony]

Star Wars Headspace

No one’s saying the sound effects from Star Wars aren’t great. But are they good enough to create an electronic music compilation using their noises? (Are any sound effects?) That’s a question Rick Rubin, Hollywood Records, and a bunch of electronic music artists responded to with an enthusiastic, “Eh, why not?” With songs called “R2 Where R U?” (Flying Lotus), “Star Tripper” (Breakbot), and “Jabba Flow (Feat. A-Trak)” (Shag Kava), Star Wars Headspace is for the most die-hard Star Wars/electronic music fans only, and even that small group needs a high tolerance for Darth Vader’s breathing counting as a sound effect. It’s a stretch not even Han Solo would brag about covering in 12 parsecs. [Caitlin PenzeyMoog]

Train, Does Led Zeppelin II

When one thinks of the band Train, one can’t help but think of the incendiary and groundbreaking guitar, the thunderous and soul-shattering drums, and vocals that oscillate between lust and wistful fantasy. So it only makes sense that the band that brought the world the unforgettable heavy metal riffs of “Drops Of Jupiter” and the sensual blues-psychedelia of “Hey Soul Sister” would attack Led Zeppelin’s seminal Led Zeppelin II. Wait a minute. No, it doesn’t. In fact, regardless of the esteem with which one holds Page, Plant, Bonham, and Jones, the oft-ridiculed Train should never cover Led Zeppelin II. Houses Of The Holy? Maybe. But, really, nobody needs to hear lead-singer-who-is-not-Adam-Levine faux-climax mid-“Whole Lotta Love.” [Leonardo Adrian Garcia]

Daughtry, It’s Not Over… The Hits So Far

Uninhibited cash grabs have long been a part of the music industry, and former American Idol Chris Daughtry’s look back at his long-and-storied 10-year career is just that. Featuring songs from his four studio albums, It’s Not Over…The Hits So Far will fit perfectly on any Idol completist’s shelf alongside season one of I Love Kellie Pickler and The House Bunny. The best-of also features two new tracks, songs that Daughtry described as such: “It’s about letting loose and not really giving a crap. Just… get your freak on. It’s got kind of an indie, heavy alternative vibe. It’s definitely heavy, but it’s got this danceability to it. Almost a little bit of Garbage in there—the band, not the trash.” Loose. Crap. Heavy. Trash. [Leonardo Adrian Garcia]

Star Wars Episode II: Attack Of The Clones soundtrack

It’s possible to be both a fan of Star Wars and an audiophile. But if those two passions overlap, it probably isn’t going to be with a limited pressing of Star Wars Episode II: Attack Of The Clones on vinyl. The score is by John Williams, de facto making it the best part of the series, but Episode II is the Jan Brady of the prequel trilogy, and the prequel trilogy is the Jan Brady of the Star Wars ennealogy. That makes the existence of this album unnecessary by an order of magnitude. And while vinyl is ideal for delivering that warm, analog sound one so closely associates with the Star Wars prequels, it will take a little more effort to properly cue up “Yoda And The Younglings” when you just want to hit the highlights. [Nick Wanserski]

Taylor Hawkins, KOTA

Taylor Hawkins is a phenomenal drummer, arguably one of the best in middle-of-the-road rock music outside of his Foo Fighters svengali Dave Grohl. Which is what makes his debut solo EP the very definition of inessential: It takes everything people like about his day job in one of the biggest rock bands in the world and does it worse. With the attitude and energy of a group of CPAs drinking beer in a family room and cobbling together some derivative ’70s riffs, KOTA traffics in shamelessly dumb bar-band goofs (“Bob Quit His Job”) and hokey blues-rock retreads (“Southern Belles”) with equal adequacy. Not helping the comparisons to his bandleader is Hawkins’ decision to play almost every instrument himself, condemning the music to the fate of every act where one talented performer surrounds himself with merely passable musicians—all of them himself, in this case. It’s the recorded equivalent of the third-place finishers in your local Ruby Tuesday’s battle of the bands—they know what they’re doing; it’s just instantly forgettable. [Alex McCown-Levy]