This year, fearful that I was succumbing to a lazy unwillingness to listen to new music masked by an unjustified belief in the superiority of my teenage idols, I forced myself to listen to habitually explore this year’s new releases with more interest than usual. I made this list of my 10 top ten tracks of 2016, with a mind to give recognition to the bands I discovered this year.
Kurt Vile: Pretty Pimpin, b’lieve I’m going down – for his drooly laid back riff based guitar music.
She Drew the Gun: If you could see – a melodic indie-rock band with sci-fi songs on time travel and lefty politics.
10) Michael Kiwanuka: Cold little Heart, Love and Hate
I was a real fan of Kiwanuka’s first album. This second album has yet to grow on me as a whole but I really love the opening track’s slow ascendency.
9) Leonard Cohen: You want it Darker, You want it Darker
Lost in the tumultuous week of the US election, Leonard Cohen died. And so, as with Bowie’s record, I cannot listen to it without being drawn back, even though the record came out some weeks earlier. I like this record for its dark religiosity and cutting bass line. Cohen has been saying goodbye in his songs for a number of years now, but in the context of Trump’s election, Cohen’s prophetic voice gauding ‘you want it darker’ took on some extra significance.
8) Angel Olsen: Shut up and Kiss me
I just really like this album. It asks old questions (what is this messed up love thing?) and echoes traditional folk and rock-n-roll styles but feels fresh.
7) M83: Do it, Try it, Junk
I’m new to M83 tooSometimes I’m appalled that I enjoy listening to it but at others, I just love the commitment to 80s weirdness which makes running a whole lot more fun.
6) Junius Meyvant: Beat Silent Need, Floating Harmonies
I don’t know how I came across Junius Meyvant – he combines melodic folk with uplifting brass lines and danceable bass. We saw him play at a strange little theatre in Hammersmith this year and the brass was played on a keyboard which was a little underwhelming but his off-beat humour made up for it.
5) Radiohead: Daydreaming, A moon Shaped Pool
While I really like the energy of the dystopic opening track ‘Burn the Witch’, I went with Daydream for its silky soundscape textures and gently soporific mood. It’s a track that works calms and focuses rather than overwhelms. It’s much more representative of the album which at first listen might pass you by but it’s depth and subtlety has much to offer.
4) Kate Tempest: Europe is Lost
I’ve been reading the anti-fascist Auden poem September 1, 1939 a lot recently. It feels relevant to the times we’re living in. It’s about ordinary life in the context impending rise of fascism – the temptation to block it out, to continue as if everything’s ordinary and to shut it out when this only lets it in. The nihilism of contemporary fascism and its cause/effect in ordinary life is explored in this Kate Tempest song.
3) Ezra Furman: Teddy I’m Ready, Big Fugitive Life
This song represents more than the EP that it sits on but also the discovery of Ezra Furman’s back catalogue as a whole that has been possibly the best part of this project. Basically, he’s really good at incorporating opposing forces within songs to create emotive, interest and fun. Combining lazy, laid-back guitars of his shambolic doo-wop punk with dark, lonely lyrics that have unexpected integrity and sharpness that explore dealing with depression and politics in refreshing, caring ways.
2) Kamasi Washington: Change of the Guards, The Epic
I don’t listen to much jazz but this is a jazz record like I’ve never listened to. It blew me away. It’s such a rush as it rises and rises, pushing you to ever more dissonant places and then releasing you back to the familiarity of its chorus that in itself is already driving you somewhere else.
1) David Bowie: Blackstar, Blackstar
It’s impossible for me to listen to this without confronting again Bowie’s passing – which changes fundamentally the album’s meaning. The whole album is astonishing with excellent frenetic drums, elements of jazz and a darkness that one doesn’t usually associate with Bowie’s work. The whole album directly confronts death but the lengthy opener through its different sections engage with death’s religious power over us, Bowie’s worries about legacy, death as blissful release and the jerky impulsive movements that i associate with the track because of the video reminds me of how we are subject to bodily limits and control.
Here’s this list in a Spotify playlist