I saw a brilliant documentary last night. It was equal parts warmth and tragedy, and as funny as hell. The two subjects were eccentric, co-dependent and loved each other to bits. As I watched, the enormity of their deaths within a day of each other hit me. How could these vital, talented people be gone? But, two days after Christmas last year, 60-year old Carrie Fisher went into cardiac arrest on a flight from London to LA. She died four days later followed swiftly by her mother, Debbie Reynolds. After seeing ‘Bright Lights’ I now understand what dying from a broken heart really means. I’d felt the same poignancy listening to Leonard Cohen’s ‘You want it Darker’ and Bowie’s triumphant ‘Black Star.’ What courage – to square off against one’s own mortality. 2016 was a brutal year for many reasons that we’re all acutely aware of. A tweet I saw summed it up perfectly: Is Quentin Tarantino directing 2016? Luckily, out of the shambles, some excellent new music surfaced. And isn’t that one of the important things? The stuff that is created? The stuff that lasts? I think back to being curled in the corner of my bedroom transfixed by ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’; and drunkenly singing ‘Take it easy’ by Glen Frey outside the Duke of Marlborough Hotel; and belting out ‘1999’ with beloved friends at Lake Taupo on the eve of Y2K. And, of course, I’ll never ever forget Princess Leia.
Here are 25 wonderful albums from last year (in no particular order):
Radiohead A Moon Shaped Pool. This is why Radiohead is one of the best bands in the world. Sublime, but don’t rush it – it gets better with every listen. Highlights: Daydreaming; Burn the Witch; True Love Waits.
James Blake The Colour in Anything. Choir boy whose heart overflows with Soul. Highlights: Meet You in the Maze; Put That Away and Talk to Me; Radio Silence.
Frank Ocean Blonde/Blond. More a work of art than an easy listen. But THAT VOICE! Highlights: Pink and White; Ivy; Nikes.
Chance the Rapper Colouring Book. Joyous and spiritual, uplifting hip-hop with a raft of cameos. Highlights: No Problem; All We Got; Blessings.
Solange A Seat at the Table. Intensely beautiful RnB delivering a raw and powerful message. Highlights: Cranes in the Sky; Scales; Don’t You Wait.
Whitney Light Upon the Lake. Indie Rock. Perfect summertime roadie music. Highlights: No Woman; Polly; Follow; No Matter Where We Go.
Lambchop Flotus. Truly millenial, melodic and modern. Highlights: NIV; Flotus; Old Masters.
Ray LaMontagne Ouroboros. Gorgeous gentle pastorally-centred songs. Highlights: All of Part Two.
Yumi Zouma Yoncalla. Breezy electronic pop from this talented 4-member Kiwi band. Highlights: Text from Sweden; Barricade (Matter of Fact); Remember You at All.
Leonard Cohen You Want it Darker. A swansong masterpiece that personifies the master. Highlights: You Want it Darker; Leaving the Table; Steer Your Way.
David Bowie Black Star. A difficult first few listens give way to wonder. Jazz-oriented, experimental and unnerving. Highlights: Lazarus; Blackstar; I Can’t Give Everything Away.
The 1975 I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it. The sound of a boy-band coming into its own. Highlights: Somebody Else; A Change of Heart; The Sound.
Anderson .Paak Malibu. Paak sounds like Stevie Wonder, James Brown, D’Angelo and Kanye West all at once. Highlights: Am I Wrong; Put me thru; Come Down.
Neko Case, k.d. Lang, Laura Veirs case/lang/veirs. Triple-whammy legends in a class of their own. Highlights: Atomic Number; Best Kept Secret; Song for Judee.
Car Seat Headrest Teens of Denial. Energetic and clever guitar-driven rock. You’ll be richly rewarded by Will Toledo’s self-deprecating lyrics. Highlights: Destroyed by Hippie Powers; The Ballad of the Costa Concordia; Vincent; Fill in the Blank; Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales.
Roosevelt Roosevelt. For lovers of everything 80’s. You’d have to be made of stone not to dance to this. Highlights: Night Moves; Moving On; Hold On.
Flume Skin. Hypnotic electronica from skilled Australian DJ Harley Streten. Highlights: Say It; Wall Fuck; Smoke and Retribution.
Angel Olsen My Woman. Olsen’s strong, unwavering voice is central here. Be patient – the album’s charms aren’t immediately obvious. Highlights: Sister; Shut Up and Kiss Me; Those Were the Days.
Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam I Had a Dream That You Were Mine. A near-perfect pairing of two celebrated musicians (The Walkmen and Vampire Weekend). Highlights: 1000 Times; Peaceful Morning; The Morning Stars.
Pinegrove Cardinal. Moving, nostalgic balladry. Wonderful story-telling in each song – the delight is in the small details. Highlights: Old Friends; Cadmium; Waveform.
Hiss Golden Messenger Heart Like a Levee. The sound of worn leather boots on a gravel road. Highlights: Happy Day (Sister my Sister); Tell Her I’m Just Dancing; Biloxi.
Bon Iver 22, A Million. Justin Vernon’s vulnerability is all over this record. There is no more lumberjack Vernon here. Beautiful but oh so strange with the most interesting track names I’ve seen in a while. Highlights: 33 “God”; 22 (OVER S–N); ooooo Million.
Drive-By Truckers American Band. This great American band has had enough.Highlights: What It Means; Ever South; Surrender Under Protest.
Michael Kiwanuka Love and Hate. This album aches. Melancholic and gorgeous. Highlights: Black Man in a White World; Cold Little Heart; Falling.
School of Seven Bells SVIIB. Written against the devastating backdrop of the death of one of the band’s members, SVIIB burns brightly with hope. Highlights: Ablaze; Signals; On My Heart.