OK so we know that 2016 already left the building about a month ago, but posting a review of the year during the year just seemed too obvious to us ;). And in the spirit of breaking boundaries, we’ve also decided to do things a bit differently this time around. Instead of just focusing on albums that were released in 2016, we’ve also included some that, though they may have been released in previous years, still found themselves stumbling into 2017 in a state of light-headed dizziness after a year of particularly heavy rotation…
Anderson Paak’s Malibu (2016) is straight up fire. I didn’t really stop listening to that record from when it was released early last year. ‘The Bird’ first caught my attention; an effortlessly delivered vocal playing call and response with a lush solo horn line. The rest of the album does not disappoint though; it’s just such an enjoyable listen with consistently strong musical and thematic ideas throughout. The best of last year? Tough to pip Solange’s A Seat At The Table I reckon, but maybe, just maybe it does.
Not a gazillion miles away (sound and feel wise) is D’Angelo’s masterpiece Voodoo (2000). I was introduced to the impressive Black Messiah by some friends and wanted to venture further back into the great man’s discography. What I was met with was pure, unadulterated grooviness; back-pocket, things that fit into other things well - like a gentleman’s handshake. ‘Spanish Joint’ may just be one of my favourite songs of all time. “Wow, that’s a bold statement,” I hear you cry. Not so bold, Juan might contest. That mix is spread like a good jam; beautifully close harmonies, silky guitar licks and complementary congas peppered on top for good measure, etceteraaa… Also, it’s like almost 6 minutes long which is very generous. Thank you D’Angelo.
First let’s start with an oldie but goodie, which I’ve listened to a heck of lot this year. Charles Mingus was known as an exceptional jazz bassist, especially in ensemble work, but this album is one of his best kept secrets - Mingus Plays Piano (1964). The story goes (from the liner notes) that the whole album was recorded in one take, one session. Strangely enough, this is the only solo album he recorded not playing bass. I found this on vinyl in a second hand shop in Leeds, luckily in great condition. It’s a captivating listen, a big inspiration and landmark piano album.
There was an overwhelming amount of new music released in 2016. Most of which I’m still digesting. It’s not easy to choose, but one album does spring to mind as a major highlight. I’ve been a big fan of James Blake since he was pushing the boundaries of late 00’s dubstep on Hemlock recordings. Fast forward to his third album The Colour In Anything (2016), in which James iterates on his sound with his most potent material yet. There’s an extremely strong sense of creativity and craft throughout as the tracks flip between pensive club bangers (how’s that for a dichotomy?) to intimate piano soliloquy. If you haven’t sat down with this album yet, outline a good hour of your time and strap in. I thoroughly recommend it.
The albums I listened to most were The 1975’s I Like It When You Sleep For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware Of It (2016) and RY X’s Dawn (2016). The 1975 have created a post modern album with elements of ambience along with 80’s influenced pop rock. It certainly delivers as an album that entertains whilst remaining pure, honest and original. I would advise anyone who hasn’t seen it to check out the 1975’s live lounge for radio 1 with the Royal Philharmonic. It blends a beautifully arranged orchestra with the unashamedly pop and punchy sound of the 4 piece band. It shouldn’t work, but it just does.
As for RY X, I first came across him through buying an EP of his on a whim a few years ago. Ever since then I’ve been anticipating an album and it hasn’t disappointed. It’s a beautiful piece of work that combines simplistic guitar lines with a string quartet, soaring above poignant lyrics sung by Ry Cuming. This album is both hypnotic and atmospheric, layering haunting synth lines with minimalistic beats that are arranged to perfection.
I bought my first car last year, and being relatively inexperienced in driving I needed some soothing music to listen to, in order to calm me down when I stalled (I tried listening to Black Rebel Motorcycle Club one journey and almost had a cardiac arrest). Here are two albums from last year that did the job admirably:
Radiohead‘s A Moon Shaped Pool (2016) contained echoes of their previous work, but sounded older and wiser. There seemed to be a vein of sad serenity running through the songs; the feeling that beauty still occurs in bad times. When Thom Yorke sings, “Where the path trails off and heads down a mountain/Through the dry bush, I don’t know where it leads/And I don’t really care,” I want to join him on a ruddy good yomp.
The Party by Andy Shauf (2016) contains great arrangements, restrained performances and lots of navel gazing. Shauf has a lovely turn of phrase; the first verse of ‘Early to the Party’ succinctly describes the social nightmare of arriving before everyone else, “standing in the kitchen, stressing out the host.” His lyrics are economical, his vocals restrained, and the orchestral parts add colour and elegance. Understated excellence.
Zaba (Glass Animals’ first studio album) was absolutely fantastic. Their second, How To Be A Human Being (2016), is even better. I cannot remember the last time I have listened to an album all the way through, then wanted to listen to it all the way through again, and again and again…and again. Every single track is captivating. In a nutshell, I’ve never been so nervous about a band’s third album… if it arrives that is.
My second most listened to album of 2016 is Childish Gambino’s Awaken My Love (2016) (I have to thank Will Featherby for passing me on to this one). It’s utterly intense. Apparently some people don’t like it that much, or something like that? But stick them in a room with me to talk it through, and I’ll happily show them they are wrong.
2016 was a year of reggae — after fulfilling a lifelong dream to visit Jamaica, I listened to it pretty much exclusively to keep the holiday vibes going. Also partly responsible was a taxi driver in a local Yorkshire pub who told me that he’d picked up 100 Huge Hits of Reggae in the queue at TK Maxx and it had changed his life. He instructed me in no uncertain terms to get my hands on a copy, and so the vibes lived on.
In terms of true ‘albums’ though, the one I listened to repeatedly was Jamie Woon’s Making Time (2015). Everything about it effortlessly holds my interest on every listen, and I love how close it sounds, like it’s happening in the room. A perfect second album.
My top 2016 release has to be Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker. I’ll admit that my prior experience of his work had been limited to great covers of his songs (Johnny Cash’s version of Bird On The Wire is one of my favourites of all time), but now I’m starting to see the root of the brilliance. The arrangements on this album are so beautifully understated, leaving Cohen to take the fore, half-singing half-talking, like he’s known the songs all his life.
AND A BONUS…
In an effort to not tread on each others toes and choose any duplicates, we somehow all left it to someone else to mention A Tribe Called Quest‘s outstanding album We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service (2016). Reading the list of people involved, you would expect it to be brilliant. And in a rather satisfying turn of events, it is. Enough said.
So what are YOU listening to and loving at the moment? Let us know by dropping us a tweet - @wmpstudios