2016 Year End Round-Up

Dave Redford ignores Bob Dylan for once and does look back…

Death haunted pop music in 2016. What made it so remarkable though was that David Bowie and Leonard Cohen had the courage to confront their own mortality and turn it into art, while my favourite compilation was the 59-track Day of the Dead, three discs of Grateful Dead covers curated by Aaron and Bryce Dessner of The National, featuring songs from all the leading lights of the indie glitterati. Death also featured in the title of one of my favourite songs of the year, Tinfoil Deathstar.

That’s the slightly gloomy bit done. There was also much to enjoy, including returns from Teenage Fanclub, The Coral, Lambchop, Billy Bragg, Radiohead, A Tribe Called Quest, Bat For Lashes, Iggy Pop, Bon Iver, Nick Cave, PJ Harvey, Suede and Tindersticks, to name but a fair few. None of these is on my list though.

2016 Music Review

In writing this Top 10 albums list, I’m aware that it’s impossible even for a music critic these days, let alone an amateur like myself, to listen to all the new music that’s available, so below I’ve tried to pick out two albums from five genres I feel I know best, which means no dance, death metal or dancehall below.

Folk / Singer-Songwriter

There were a few standout folk and singer-songwriter releases for me in 2016, including the latest LPs from Furrow Collective, Yorkston/Thorne/Khan, Frankie Cosmos and Shirley Collins. Among the reissues, Sandy Denny’s acoustic collection, I’ve Always Kept A Unicorn, and Dylan’s Royal Albert Hall Concert (including a jawdropping rendition of Mr Tambourine Man) are worth checking out, but these were my two picks:

In Search of Harperfield (Emma Pollock)

So Much To Defend (Chris Wood)

Here’s Emma with Dark Skies…

Hip Hop

The UK’s second grime wave hasn’t produced any classic albums, though Skepta’s latest release is worth a listen. What I’m enjoying most are the increasingly weird, genre-bending hip hop records from the likes of Kendrick Lamar, Danny Brown, Childish Gambino, etc. Kanye’s latest LP was sonically interesting but lyrically dull, while Beyoncé’s Lemonade lays down a marker for where the album’s heading, mainly in terms of a more visual approach, but these were my favourites:

Blonde (Frank Ocean)

A Seat At The Table (Solange)

Solange with Cranes In The Sky

Country

I won’t pretend I can tell the difference between the music of Garth Brooks and Keith Urban, but I do know that outside that main core of country stars there are a lot of interesting musicians taking the genre in new directions. Examples that come to mind from 2016 are William Tyler, Hiss Golden Messenger and Brothers Osborne, while I also enjoyed the latest records from Drive-By Truckers, Case/Lang/Veirs and Richmond Fontaine. These were by far the two standout LPs for me though:

 A Sailor’s Guide To Earth (Sturgill Simpson)

Midwest Farmer’s Daughter (Margo Price)

Here is Sturgill with In Bloom

Electronic

Hauntology, especially anything from the Ghost Box label, rarely fails to hook me in, and I found the latest release from Pye Corner Audio completely immersive. In 2016, most electronic music seemed to be dominated by a lot of older heads, like Aphex Twin, Autechre, The Avalanches and Anohni, and it was another one – Sterolab’s Tim Gane – that summoned up the spirit of Neu! and Berlin techno with the wonderful Cavern of Anti-Matter LP:

Stasis (Pye Corner Audio)

Void Beats / Invocation Trex (Cavern of Anti-Matter)

Here is Pye Corner Audio with Pulse Threshold

Psychedelia

As a friend said, nothing really evokes 2016 better than some “dark, sleazy nonsense” and you won’t find much that’s darker, sleazier and more nonsensical than these two records:

Songs For Our Mothers (Fat White Family)

Rook to TN34 (eMMplekz)

Whitest Boy on The Beach was the lead single from the Fat White Family album:

Two final notes to round off this 2016 music review. The first is that the vinyl revival shows no sign of letting up, with vinyl albums generating more in income from sales in the UK in 2016. See chart below:

Vinyl Sales 2016

Also, I’m going to leave you with the words of one of my favourite music writers, Simon Reynolds, who had this to say on his blog in reference to Trump: “A curious thing about the election is that it showed both the weakness and the power of pop culture. On one hand, 99% of the star performer class rallied to Clinton’s cause, without any effect beyond buzzing up the pre-converted … On the other hand, the winner is absolutely a product of the entertainment industry – a fame monster spawned by celebrity culture at its most abject.

P.S. Here’s my Top 100 tracks of 2016 playlist:

 

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