2016: A Wonderful Soundtrack to the Worst.Year.Ever
2015 was a disappointing year of so many follow-up albums and anticipated new releases that just didn’t live up to expectations. 2016 may have been a terrible year in many respects, but for new music, it was a winner. Here’s a selection (in no particular order) of some of my favourite albums from the year.
David Bowie – ★
A selection so obvious, it’s almost embarrassing. After all, I’m on a lifelong quest to convince people of the genius of the first Tin Machine album. Out of all the people I’ve never met but who have had a massive impact on my life, David Bowie is pretty near the top of the list. Which isn’t to say Blackstar is a sympathy vote, it’s another fantastic Bowie album that does what he did best; never keeping still, always moving forwards, sounding fresh, considered lyrics sung in that wonderful voice of his. This time around it was an album that had the added impact of death as a work of art, which somewhat perversely made it even more exquisite.
For much of the year it was an album that I couldn’t listen to and almost a year later I still can’t quite adjust to a world without David Bowie and have to keep reminding myself that he’s not here anymore.
Ladyhawke – Wild Things
The redemption of Pip Brown. It’s hard to think of many much worse second albums than the absolute dog that is Ladyhawke’s 2012 album Anxiety but Wild Things is a sensational turnaround. I think it’ll be one of those albums that won’t make most, if any, of the Australian music press end of year lists but if like me, you’re a sucker for an album full of 80s sounding perfect pop songs, this is an album for you. I sent of a media accreditation email for her Brisbane show but never heard anything back, which was one of the year’s biggest disappointments.
The Drones – Feelin Kinda Free
There is a downside to The Drones in that they’ve been so far above and beyond every band in Australia for more than a decade that they’ve become predictable in their brilliance. It’s almost as if the tastemakers have become blasé about them, or even that they’re subconsciously forcing themselves to just to give everyone else a chance.
In a fair world, ‘Taman Shud’ should be vying for the top of triple j’s Hottest 100 on 26 January but I wouldn’t be surprised if it doesn’t even make the 100. The public will probably give it to terrible Australian indie landfill song, or someone like Sticky Fingers. But you know what they say; democracy doesn’t work and neither does meritocracy.
Feeling Kinda Free sees The Drones once again moving forwards, with their unmistakable sound being embellished by heavily processed guitar sounds throughout. Whereas the band have traditionally been a heavy listen, this time around, despite the ever present Gareth Liddiard vs The World contemplations, somewhat bizarrely they seem to be having a lot more fun.
The Goon Sax – Up To Anything
The press release for The Goon Sax’s Up To Anything album totalled 309 words and none of those words was ‘Go-Betweens’. Being from Brisbane and having a family connection to Robert Forster, it’s obvious that they want to play down the connection and be their own band but you can’t hear them and not think of one of Brisbane’s best two bands (The Saints in case you were wondering).
Although perhaps I’m being a little unkind, and a little unwise even mentioning that because Up To Anything stands up by itself effortlessly and is easily one of the best Australian debut albums in years. Despite the uncertainness of teenage life that flavours the album’s lyrics, it’s a ridiculously assured and confident album. Given the age of the band’s members, you can’t help but make comparisons back to when you were a teenager and feel pangs of jealously and regret at how much they’ve achieved so far and knowing that the best is yet to come.
King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard – Nonogon Infinity
One of the great musical mysteries over the last few years has been trying to comprehend why people like Tame Impala so much (although the big question for 2016 has been “Why do people like Flume?”). Seriously, they’re one of the most boring live bands I’ve ever seen and for all the praise, the songs just aren’t that interesting and mostly just plod along in an unremarkable fashion. Bascially King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard are the band that deserved all those column inches and end of year listicle votes. An absolutely bats shit crazy live show and with Nonogon Infinity, yet another top notch album of fried psychedelic rock (or should that be Heavy Metal…) For some reason everyone went crazy for ‘People Vultures’ but the album’s first single, ‘Gamma Knife’, was where it’s at. Perhaps you just have to be a fan of those late 60s/early 70s UK horror films to fully appreciate the genius of the song’s video clip.
Violent Soho – WACO
I went in expecting to not like this album. It seems such a bizarre concept that I was anticipating disappointment given how long I’ve been championing this band but the first couple of singles from WACO, ‘Like Soda’ and ‘Viceroy’ didn’t work for me as standalone songs and a precursors to the album, didn’t provide much hope.
Additionally, although their previous album, Hungry Ghost, had the songs, the album’s mix, which had the bass drum louder than everything else irritated me every single time I listened to it. But in the context of the album the lead singles work and the bass drum sound issue has been rectified this time around.
It’s Soho’s strongest album to date, one of those classic albums where they could release almost any song from it as a single. I’d still love to see them take the shoegaze sounds they were flirting with a few albums ago and occasionally keep hinting at a lot further next time around.
Kate Tempest – Let Them Eat Chaos
So Dylan won the Nobel Prize for literature and annoyed a lot of people in the process. The Swedish Academy who award the prize set their stall out in advance; you’re a member for life so the judging panel rather obviously leans towards old age, and the award is given for a body of work that doesn’t have to be current. At its heart it’s a prize awarded by old people and given to old people.
I can’t appreciate the impact that Dylan had in the years before I was born, I can appreciate the imagery of his lyrics in the time that I’ve been listening to him. He doesn’t need it, but I’m happy for him to have won this award, even though there’s a bunch of writers who are probably more deserving of winning a prize for literature, because of the positive consideration of lyrics as being more than ‘just a vehicle for a lovely voice’.
I hope it’s not a one of token awarding of the prize (although it’s more than likely that it will be) and in thinking about current musical acts who one day might also be up for this award, Kate Tempest should be on the list.
In current climate, Let Them Eat Chaos sounds like the soundtrack for Brexit. It’s an album that in the last few months I just keep coming back to as it just sounds so right as a reflection of the world in 2016. It almost sounds like it was almost written for the very purpose.
Anhoni – Hopelessness
I spent a good few weeks going through this year’s Mercury Music Prize nominees. The Mercury doesn’t do sympathy, so I was never expecting Bowie to be posthumously awarded the prize. Although I really enjoyed the eventual winner, Skepta’s Konnichiwa I thought Anhoni’s Hopelessness would be a shoe in. It’s a staggeringly beautiful album. The only thing that might have counted against it was Anhoni’s previous win under her Anthony & The Johnsons moniker back in 2005. Although I think PJ Harvey is a two-times winner of the prize, as well as not doing sympathy voting, I think the Mercury (as with most other prestigious art prizes) doesn’t like repeat winners where they can be avoided.
Future of the Left – The Peace and Truce of Future of the Left
Do you remember all those ‘noughties’ bands that thought it was cool to not have a bassist? All those tinny, indie schmindie bands that everyone seems a bit embarrassed by a decade on? Future of the Left’s The Peace and Truce of Future of the Left is the album that you want to beat these people around the head with. Even after all these months since the album’s release in April, it’s impossible to listen to start listening to the album and not have the immediate reaction of “HOLY FUCK! THAT BASS!” It’s just monstrous. Obviously Falco and Jack do what they’ve always done but “HOLY FUCK! THAT BASS!” Future of the Left keep using crowdfunding to pay for their albums, I keep giving them money as soon as I hear about their campaign and I can’t see that changing anytime soon.
PJ Harvey – The Hope Six Demolition Project
A selection so obvious, it’s almost embarrassing. But what can you say? Some people never disappoint (well…maybe White Chalk). Some people are lucky enough to find their true calling in life.
Solange – A Seat At The Table
Looking at the top end of the end of year lists I’ve seen so far, there’s a lot of albums that I haven’t listened to. I still haven’t heard the new Nick Cave as the thought of doing so just seems too hard and I can’t work out what mental state I need to be in to do so. Instead I just keep putting it off.
Although 2016 was the year I became a bad person and embraced streaming, I still haven’t heard Beyonce’s Lemonade because it’s not on Spotify. What is available to stream on Spotify is Solange’s A Seat At The Table and I guess there’s a part of me that can’t believe that the elder Knowles sister could have put out something as good as this.
In writing down a shortlist of albums over the last few weeks, the one thing that struck me is how political so many of 2016’s best albums have been, when supposedly there’s been shortage of protest songs in these modern times. I think in future years when people look back at 2016, this album will be considered the year’s ‘What’s Going On’ and hopefully as accepted in the popular music’s canon.
Let’s Eat Grandma – I, Gemini
I get a fair amount of emails every single day and when I have the time I make an effort to listen to as much as I’m sent. It’s very easy to save time and effort by just deferring to promos from the big name artists that you get sent at the cost of perhaps stumbling across something new and exciting. I guess ultimately I’m an adventurer in search of treasure.
Let’s Eat Grandma is the sort of band I might normally ignore purely based on their terrible band name. When my inbox becomes overwhelming I take any reason I can to cull emails; looking at press photos is probably the easiest way to make a decision as to whether I’m going to spend precious time listening to your song. Yes, it’s unfair and hardly an exact science but that’s just how it works. But putting aside my irrational and probably unreasonable behaviour, I really struck gold in taking time to check out the Let’s Eat Grandma album.
Frankie Cosmos – Next Thing
A completely perfect collection of two-minute (ish) songs. The clichéd, all killer, no filler. I’m slightly heartbroken that her two shows in Brisbane next March went on sale and sold out while I was overseas, but slightly annoyed/jealous that she’s playing the tiny, tiny Junk Bar. If some kind person has a media list can they add me to it? Pretty please?
Tkay Maidza – Tkay
If you’ve ever seen Tkay Maidza perform, you knew within the first couple of songs that she was going to be a superstar. Her debut album finally came out in late 2016 and as with most albums, it’s too long (48 minutes) and has far too many songs (14). But what would you cut out? It’s genius and there’s nothing you could easily cull to make it more concise. The only choice would have been to throw some darts at a list of the fourteen songs. By giving the second album an early start of three or four songs, she’d almost be halfway to having a second album as good as her debut.