Best Albums 2016

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.

Three terrific new albums….

Blond, Frank Ocean

Frank Ocean has been MIA since 2012’s excellent channel Orange. Well, this is what he’s been up to in the interim. Blond is an exceptional album, managing even to rise above the public pressure preceding it. Listening to Blond you can hear a myriad of influences but it all ends up sounding fresh and original. Ocean is indefinable as an artist, unlike many of his contemporaries, although don’t expect the songs on Blond to end up on a top 40 chart anytime soon. There are no anthemic hits or big bangers but the feel of the entire album is wondrously moody. There are also some hilarious cameos: his mum; a friend burnt by Facebook; his 11 year old brother. Brilliant.

Highlights: Nu-RnB ‘Pink + White’ with backing by Beyonce, the Beatle-esque ‘White Ferrari’, gorgeous ‘Godspeed’ featuring gospel legend Kim Burrell.

 

Blond is not on Spotify. You gotta buy!

Love and Hate, Michael Kiwanuka

Michael Kiwanuka

Michael Kiwanuka’s album Love and Hate is a glorious, sprawling sophomore release from the talented North-Londoner. It’s a big departure from his ‘safe’ debut album Home Again that, although it showcased his warm soulful voice and superb guitar skill, kept within the traditional boundaries of RnB and soul. This album is another thing altogether.

Highlights: Epic opener ‘Cold Little Heart’, Gospel-infused ‘Black Man in a white World.’

 

Roosevelt, Roosevelt.

Roosevelt

I have to admit I’ve been solo day-dancing to this. It’s an ode to all of you who were teenagers in the real 80’s. So is Roosevelt authentic? I couldn’t say it better than excruciatingly-hip Pitchfork magazine: Roosevelt is ‘a cocktail of disco, French touch, Ibiza house, yacht rock, and electropop that evokes some crowded Tiki-torch dancefloor lost on the Mediterranean coast. Even the artwork plays the part: Roosevelt (aka Cologne-based producer/DJ Marius Lauben) stands awash in purple light, his name displayed in a sharp, 1980s cursive. It looks like something you’d find on a poolside coffee table of a Malibu mansion after a massive rager, slightly stained with suntan lotion and margarita mix.’

‘Yacht pop’ – wow, there is such a thing!

Highlights: You’ll find your own depending on your stamina but mine – ‘Fever’, ‘Wait Up’, ‘Night Moves’

 

 

A Gentle Playlist for Mornings

Morning bird

I’m most definitely not a morning person, being instead a perfectly content habitual owl. However, as any owl knows, the period pre-lunch can be a challenge and needs to be handled with the least amount of stricture. For me, this means shuffling aimlessly around the house in my ancient dressing gown (which will never be replaced, think Linus van Pelt), carrying a bottomless cup of restorative sweet tea. Anything I listen to also has to be similarly restorative.

This playlist is a tender, yet sunny, collection that will gently accompany any fellow morning-phobes as you ease  yourselves into the bright light. I’ve book-ended it with two instrumental pieces: the first, ‘Phase’ by Beck from his bliss-filled album ‘Morning phase’ and, the last ‘Avril 14th’ a rarely accessible ambient track from electronic artist Aphex Twin. In between is a whole mash of tunes – lots of acoustic guitar, soft piano and a handful of interesting covers of some old favourites.

And Larks, it can be played in the evenings too…

If you know like-minded people who love music as much as you do please share this post with them by clicking on the links below.

Best 20 Albums of 2015

2015 was an extraordinary year for music. Candid memoir-albums were everywhere, keeping pace with their literary cousins; 90’s alt-rock burst forth from those conceived in that decade; and preternaturally gorgeous songs emerged from a gamut of broken hearts.

Here’s the complete playlist, with the exception of Joanna Newsom who is not on Spotify:



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The Year of the Chimera – 2014’s Best Albums

2014 was an interesting year for music. Established names pulled out career defining albums, while new artists stomped over the rickety remnants of genre boundaries to produce brilliant debut hybrids. There was more than something for every type of listener. For me, ‘Lost in the Dream’ by The War on Drugs stood above the others. Every time I listen to it I think of The Boss’ third album ‘Born to Run,’ albeit with an aesthetic of smoke and mirrors and hazy psychedelica. ‘Lost in the Dream’ was also Adam Granduciel’s third album, a labour of love in which he worked through panic attacks and anxiety to produce what I reckon is an enduring masterpiece.

I haven’t ordered these albums in any meaningful way except alphabetically and, at the bottom of the page, you’ll find a spotify playlist with  a couple of songs from each one. Continue reading

In Each Other’s Pockets

I admire those couples who can both live and work together harmoniously. Given there are a swag who can barely coexist, these star twosomes deserve a happy stamp on each hand. It’s even better when the fruit falling from such compatible pairing is in the form of one magical album after another. So who are these rare and envied beings? And do they write songs about who forgot to put the rubbish out? Continue reading

Through Adversity comes Strength…or a really great album….

Breakup albums. I’ve got a fair few on my ‘Albums I Listen to Incessantly and Never Tire of’  list: Ryan Adams’ ‘Heartbreaker’ is one, http://pitchfork.com/reviews/albums/36-heartbreaker/, and Beck’s ‘Sea Change’ another, http://www.rollingstone.com/music/lists/100-best-albums-of-the-2000s-20110718/beck-sea-change-20110707 . I like these particular albums, not because I have schadenfreude tendencies, but because unexpectedly raw beauty has been created by two artists, neither of whom were previously known for their overly-sensitive sides. Beck sat on his twelve songs for two years not wanting to ‘strew his baggage across the public lobby.’ I suppose with track names like ‘Guess I’m Doing Fine,’ ‘Lonesome Tears’ and ‘Already Dead’ there could have been accusations of wallowing self-indulgence. Although the album is awash with lush string arrangements, the lyrics are so honest, so stricken yet delivered in a deadpan detached tone, that any hint of sentimentality doesn’t get a look in. Continue reading

This Is Not Dinner Party Music

Someone has asked me if I could do a post on music that would complement a dinner party. While I muse on this, I’ve decided to write about music that would, instead, go down like a lead zeppelin over the creamed celeriac and braised pork belly (this is an easy job as the bulk of my collection falls into this murky category(!)). Continue reading

Good Winter

So, who’s up today?

Bon Iver

First, the name – Bon Iver. It’s from the french phrase bon hiver, meaning ‘good winter’. I, of course, mispronounced it for quite a long time, saying it loudly and confidently until a kind and sympathetic soul whispered the correct pronunciation in my ear. Since then I’ve found I’m not alone:

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