Here’s a selection of music I’ve been listening to regularly in 2016. Music is a constant soundtrack in my day to day existence, I rarely live in a silent way.
2016 has brought its fair share of musical bounty already. In personal terms I’ve dashed back and forth between old and new releases whilst whole catalogs of artists like David Bowie and Prince have come under review necessitated by surprising deaths. Ty Segall‘s disturbing and at times brutal Emotional Mugger (Drag City) continues the usual Ty assault on the senses though takes a left turn as far as his star reaching potential goes. But that’s OK: the previous Manipulator showed us that Ty can play the rules and be efficient and clean whilst Emotional Mugger gets dirty and mean. I recommend listening with headphones to get the benefit of the fantastic stereo reach of this release. If an album can be nauseating in a good way then Emotional Mugger achieves this, but thankfully the tunes still command our strictest attention and Ty Segall continues on his slightly skewed upward trajectory.
If an album can be nauseating in a good way then Emotional Mugger achieves this
Animal Collective‘s latest Painting With (Domino) has caused much disdain for claims that the band are not reinventing the wheel. This is a shame, as Painting With is a more than solid collection of AC tracks where the band dip their toes in the EDM waters whilst sounding resolutely Animal Collective-esque. For fans of the band’s older sound I’d direct you to the solo release of Animal Collective’s Deakin with the long in gestation Sleep Cycle – a pleasing listen. Select titles from Destroyer‘s invaluable back catalog got a reissue (Rubies, City Of Daughters, Thief) – but top marks goes to 2001’s indispensable Streethawk: A Seduction (Merge). One of the releases of the last decade and still Destroyer’s greatest achievement. You owe it to yourself to get lost in Dan Bejars’ knowing poetry with music that still surprises with keen melodies and an attuned classicism.
Porches Pool (Domino) has delighted in delivering a fresh outlook to a sound that has been prevalent in recent years amongst artists such as Twin Shadow, Blood Orange and Wild Nothing (to name a few from a very congested scrum). Yes, it’s electronica meets a curious soulfulness that surprises in its everyday topics and plastic naievety, especially with album closer Security knocking it out of the park. Kanye West‘s Life of Pablo has reimagined our relationship to the album and I recommend a reading of Petri’s article to get under the sheets of this tasty yet not entirely focused but still fascinating record. Rihanna‘s Anti (Universal) album was mildly successful in showing artistic growth but seriously lacked killer tunes for my pop appetite.
Meanwhile Eleanor Friedberger embraces the conventional on her solid rather than exceptional New View (French Kiss). Friedberger does a good job of eschewing her New York quirkiness in favour of a more traditional approach: in this case a lot of Bob Dylan‘s Blood On The Tracks style introspection and tone. Delivering different quirks is Cate le Bon with Crab Day (Drag City). Nobody does effortless dreaminess like le Bon, the 1960’s vibe is still strong but Crab Day relishes its angular pursuits and opens up with every new listen.
Nobody does effortless dreaminess like le Bon, the 1960’s vibe is still strong but Crab Day relishes its angular pursuits and opens up with every new listen.
M83‘s Junk (Mute) could be an ode to the lure of Christopher Cross‘ whole catalog, so entrenched in 1980s AOR does the record find itself. Yet amongst this homage one can find thrills and fun aplenty with the song Go especially hitting the mark. Parquet Courts’ Human Performance (Rough Trade) is an album with a sharp sense of songwriting aligned with the band’s usual racket. Human Performance affirms Parquet Courts’ status as the leading band for those lost and lonely individuals like myself who like to scruff it out with anybody.
Radiohead are back with a surprisingly conventional album (you may have heard of it) called A Moon Shaped Pool (XL). It engages – unlike recent Radiohead albums – with its melodic conceits and toned down experiments (and man those string arrangements are something else). Paul McCartney’s Pure McCartney (EMI) collection is a solo spanning beast where Macca curates his own playlist for you – just so you don’t have to. The deluxe edition boasts an intimidating 67 tracks! Amongst the well known hits, McCartney manages to pull some strong obscurities out of his vast back catalog.
Weezer‘s return to form, White Album (Geffen) is fun, Sturgill Simpson‘s A Sailor’s Guide To Earth (RJ Records), Kevin Morby with Singing Saw (Dead Oceans) and The Range‘s unique Potential (Domino) are all worthy of your time. As is Beyoncé‘s formidable Lemonade. Weezer return with an album that is the Weezer album I needed right now – it’s a fine example of what they do best, leaving aside recent flirtations with metal and angular shapes. Melody is strong. The country (Simpson) and singer/songwriter (Morby) aspects of A Sailor’s Guide To Earth and Singing Saw are both invigorated by a brush with the contemporary and a hefty injection of soul. The Range’s Youtube found collaborations add a new twist of quality to the pool of talent hiding in the long tail whilst finding new forms in the hip-hop/electronica hybrid.
The power of the brand encourages us to dive into an album that exists on its own terms, despite the heavy marketing push
Lemonade simply posits the superstar album into a more left-field exercise. The power of the brand encourages us to dive into an album that exists on its own terms, despite the heavy marketing push. It’s a departure for Bey as she not only brings various socio-political angles to the table, but reimagines her music into something away from the R&B template, affording the listener a more rockist view of her talents. As awful as that sounds on paper Beyoncé simply finds a new way to engage. Lemonade is risky yet more consistent than what’s come before. A real album experience is emphasized rather than a collection of singles mounted into the usual filler quotient.
Finnish music has been plentiful, although the seemingly ever-present mainstream continues to disappoint me. Highlights have been few but some moments have popped through the mesh – indie doyens Merries Travel To the Sun (Royal Mint) being one of the year’s brightest tunes. A new band with familiar faces Kids Music frolic on an Axl Smith scandal with Camera (Bandcamp). Unsigned and definitely swimming in the same seas as Sufjan Stevens‘ grander designs are Morsian– a recent live show I caught brought ambition and collective craft whilst first cut Little Joy (Soundcloud) is a pocket of magic. Almost considered a Finnish native, American musician Michael McDonald (no, not that one) finally reveals his second long player, The Last Day. A lovely album that delights with serene atmosphere. I can’t recommend this one enough.
My biggest resource for music this year has been the vinyl second hand bin or record fair. Steely Dan‘s Katy Lied and Countdown to Ecstasy (ABC Records) have both filled my need for underrated Dan (I lIke). Nico‘s The Frozen Borderline 1968-1970 (Elektra/Rhino) and her debut Chelsea Girl (Verve) enrich and inform yet still manage to entice an at-an- arm’s-length feeling (Chelsea Girl was my third time of buying this record – different vinyl and cd’s, sold and lost, this recent purchase was a black slice of plastic for 10€ ). Simon And Garfunkel‘s Bookends (Columbia), rarely mentioned in the great albums lists – is just that – a treasure of songcraft and considered ideas. The rich heavy strings and slow burn of Isaac Hayes Black Moses (Stax) – a 10€ steal on double plates – offers the truest soul.
Joni Mitchell‘s forever fresh Ladies of The Canyon (Reprise) not only sounds like the aural equivalent of a super light french toast, it reminds me why I love vinyl sleeves with Joni’s effortlessly fine doodles. Tom Verlaine‘s solo mid 1980s excursions have almost been forgotten as the clamour for canonisation of Television‘s Marquee Moon accelerates. Flash Light (Fontana) overcomes some dated 1980’s drum sounds to present us with a solid if not inspired collection. Cut from the same Velvet’s cloth Lloyd Cole and the Commotions 1984-89 (Polydor) reminds me what an achievement it was for Cole to momentarily become a pop-star with such literate pop (and a bargain from a vinyl fair for 4€).
Joni Mitchell‘s forever fresh Ladies of The Canyon (Reprise) not only sounds like the aural equivalent of a super light french toast, it reminds me why I love vinyl sleeves with Joni’s effortlessly fine doodles.
When I was younger, for a moment it felt like everyone had a Frankie Says something T-shirt, but a 3€ find in perfect skin (ahem) for Frankie Goes To Hollywood‘s debut double LP Welcome To The Pleasuredome (ZTT) reminds of how #1 subversive the band were. Trevor Horn’s production thrills, Liverpool scruffs liking a bit of rough whilst Paul Morley wrote the sleeve notes (no, really). Despite an increase of RSD cynicism in 2016, Fleetwood Mac‘s Alternative Tusk (Warner Brothers) stands on its own double vinyl perch as a more than interesting artefact of a great album. Regina Spektor has been so disappointing since her breakthrough Soviet Kitsch (Sire), a return to this small wonder on red vinyl reminds one of that original spark.
Amongst the many myths of Factory Records the melancholy tones of Vinni Reilly are often written out of that story in favour of tales of drug opulence and the labels brighter stars. It’s a shame as Reilly’s debut as The Durutti Column, The Return Of… sounds relevant and modernist, but highlights a truly unique take on minimalist musical sculpture. Eno & Byrne‘s My life In The Bush of Ghosts (Polydor) with immaculate glory only cost 6€ as a used vinyl, but most revealing is the dislocated funk that still sounds top class. A warning however: don’t listen in a dark room alone, the exorcism excerpts alternately chill and disturb.
The Return Of… sounds relevant and modernist, but highlights a truly unique take on minimalist musical sculpture
Finally, a couple of selections from the white male rock canon: The Rolling Stones patchy, yet still urgent Beggars Banquet (ABKCO) holds enough decadent off-handedness to suggest Mick and Keith believed their drugs were better than anyone else’s. Bruce Springsteen concedes to the New Wave and ditches the bombast for Darkness On The Edge of Town (Columbia). There’s an intensity and urgency to these songs with the simplest arrangements, Bruce’s undervalued best.
Nick listened to these selections though various set ups, amplifiers and interfaces. Dual 505-2 turntable through a basic Sony (RDS EON) multi-purpose amp that powers Yamaha NH10 Speakers. Through the same set up Cd’s were loaded to a Technics SL-PG390 CD player. A Crosley portable turntable through a Bose hi fidelity speaker sufficed for Kitchen listening, with an alternative being an iPad/iPhone running albums from Tidal via the Bose. Physical albums were either sent as promo, though most were picked up via Discogs, Keltainen Jäänsärkijä, Tavastia Record Fair, Fresh Garbage and LevyKauppa X.