The Year in Review:
The Best of 2016 and What to Look Forward to in 2017
WITH every passing year in music…
it is down to those who have followed its fate to encapsulate it the best they can. I have been keeping my eyes on some fantastic musicians and already compiled a three-part list of the artists to follow in 2017 – I will be going into more depth in my next feature (at the weekend). Not only do I look at the musicians who are worth your time and energy next year: I highlight the albums and songs from the mainstream that have suitably rocked my (and critics') foundations.
This year, the mainstream has really stepped in the groove – or some less tragic sentence construct – and produced an army of wonderful albums. It is hard to take in the sheer array of sounds and songs laid to tape throughout 2016. I am not exaggerating when I say the last twelve months have been among the most productive and surprising in recent years. Not only is the sheer variation of music beguiling: the quality of the albums produced adds new magic, wonder and weight to this decade. While the critics have spoken and decided upon their favourite albums of the year; I have had a think and published my list of the best albums of 2016 (https://musicmusingsandsuch.wordpress.com/2016/11/12/feature-the-ten-best-albums-of-2016-so-far/). You can see, looking at the rundown, there is a proliferation of British artists mentioned. I have listed Beyoncé’s Lemonade among the top-ten – a view shared by most critics who consider it to be 2016’s greatest album. Aside from emotional and majestic offerings from Leonard Cohen, David Bowie and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds; there has been a counterbalance of more hopeful and uplifting records.
Julia Jacklin’s Don’t Let the Kids Win sits in my ten choice albums from the year and with good reason. The Australian newcomer addresses issues of loneliness, maturity and love with surprising originality and passion. Her voice has that mix of natural accent and universality – you cannot listen to Jacklin sing and not be affected and feel safer. Her songwriting investigates common themes but does so with her own bent and perspective. Jacklin, whilst preparing the album, was seeing her friends and family settle down and get married. She, by comparison, felt rather undeveloped and behind everyone else; maybe feeling left behind and abandoned. In actuality, Jacklin was far ahead of her peers (and family). By being different and aside from the crowd – or an ambitious and creative young woman – she created an album that brimmed with candour and colour; life and beauty – one of the most impressive debut albums in recent years.
Not to be intimidated by expectation, competition and pressure: Radiohead followed up The King of Limbs with the sensational A Moon Shaped Pool. Employing a lot of the same emotional, orchestral elements of its predecessor: the band stepped fully into strings territory and came up with an album of immense grace, tenderness and splendour. Thom Yorke’s voice has never sounded as rich and impactful whilst the songwriting was up there with the band’s peak – the period between The Bends and Kid A. Opening song/lead single Burn the Witch is a nervy and highly-charged song that looks at immigration and those who point fingers at others; a general panic and hysteria that sweeps people. Ful Stop is all-kinds-of nervy and fast-flowing whilst True Love Waits sees an old Radiohead song finally get into the studio. Everything together and Radiohead produced an album that not only matched their biggest records but shifted their sound without losing credibility and focus.
Whilst Julia Jacklin provided music of memorability and marvel on her debut album: Michael Kiwanuka crafted a sophomore record that was, in some ways, stronger than most albums released this year. Love & Hate is a seismic leap from his debut, Home Again. Not only are the songs stronger and more ambitious but his voice shows more shades and possibilities. Epics such as the title track prove what confidence Kiwanuka has; Black Man in a White World a song that looks at the hero (in a white world) and the isolation felt – arching the microscope to the wider world and the racial issues that are rife. One More Night is a pure and delicious song that frames an immaculate voice – one that compares to Soul greats like Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye and Sam Cooke. Although Love & Hate lost out to Skepta’s Konnichiwa at the Mercury Prize ceremony - that is no disservice to a phenomenal record from one of Britain’s brightest stars.
Scour the endless lists of 2016’s best albums and you will struggle to find Billie Marten’s Writing of Blues and Yellows among them. Not only it is a huge omission and oversight but shows just how few, supposedly 'cultured' musical ears understood an album of such beauty and maturity. The debut album from Marten explored loneliness and mental illness; yearning for courage and the need to explore the world at large – all startling considering the Rippon singer-songwriter is still seventeen. Emily is my second-favourite song of the year – and one I will look at more later – and a musical offering that unveils a new layer of skin every time I hear it. Heavy Weather, Lionhearted and Bird are songs that promote exceptional songwriting and some a truly remarkable, adaptable voice. Green and Milk & Honey offer more bounce and uplift whilst Unware is perhaps the most nuanced and mysterious song on the record – once heard, it gets into the soul and compels one to think and imagine. The entire record has no weak moments, although Marten’s natural modesty might beg to differ, and points at a very bright and long future for our finest young songwriter.
Among my choice five songs from this year is an inclusion from Billie Marten but one from a woman she is often compared with - the wonderful and peerless Laura Marling. Little had come from Marling in 2016 beside her project, Reversal of the Muse. That interview series was designed to highlight how few women are seen behind-the-scenes in music and how that needs to change. Few expected any new music from her; so when Soothing arrived there was huge excitement and relief. After 2015’s critical-acclaimed Short Movie you wondered what direction Marling would take. The lead single from the forthcoming Semper Femina sees twangy Jazz bass lines score a song where the heroine’s lips are not moving: she needs soothing and comfort; she’s brooding and looking for something raw, honest and immediate. There have been suggestions of such emotions from Marling but never quite as overt and affecting. One of her finest, most beautiful vocals prove Marling is not only one of the world’s most surprising and consistent artists but someone who always conquers any territory she decides to traverse.
I have mentioned Radiohead and Billie Marten in my rundown of this year’s best albums and both made it into my top-five songs of the year. Radiohead’s Burn the Witch came out of nowhere and introduced us to the masterpiece that is A Moon Shaped Pool. A bit of a red herring of sorts: nothing on their eighth album contained the same dark energy, moodiness and strange entice (maybe Ful Stop?). It is my pick of the year’s songs because of the excitement that surrounded its release. Any Radiohead record is a thing of wonder but there was particular mystery surrounding A Moon Shaped Pool. Conversely, Billie Marten’s Emily was not released as a single: it is the fourth track on her debut album and few publications, in so much as they overlook the album, highlight Emily as one of their standout songs of 2016. It only takes one spin of the track for it to get under the skin and into the head: harder to explain all its complex strands and all the elements that go into the song.
Among those songs that stand out to me; there are few quite as inexplicably rousing and exciting as M83’s Go! It did not make my top-five but is definitely one of the greatest ten – Michael Kiwanuka’s Love & Hate and Jamie T’s Tinfoil Boy complete my favourite five songs. M83’s album Junk was met with mixed reviews for a few reasons. Sense-tingling jams like Road Blaster and Laser Gun were singled as clear highlights but too many fillers distilled their essence somewhat. One of three album tracks that feature Mai Lan: Go! is as urgent and emphatic as its title suggests. That chorus is unbeatable in its catchiness and memorability. You cannot help sing along and let the jubilant instrumentation move the body. Despite the fact the song was used on Made in Chelsea – the death knell of any song/soul – cannot detract from the rainbow-burst delight and infantile delirium of the song.
Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
Sep 9, 2016
Apr 23, 2016
You Want It Darker
Oct 21, 2016
We Got It From Here...Thank You 4 Your Service
A Tribe Called Quest
Nov 11, 2016
A Seat at the Table
Sep 30, 2016
Sep 30, 2016
A Moon Shaped Pool
May 8, 2016
Black America Again
Nov 4, 2016
Apr 1, 2016
Jan 8, 2016
Before I come to look at things that will make 2017 a much rosier proposition (than this year); I wanted to focus on a few artists that will help turn 2017 into a stunning year for music – as forecast by some of the most important music sites/journalists out there:
PHOTO CREDIT: Murray McMillan Photography
“The Scottish three-piece is fronted by singer-songwriter Charlotte Brimner, who has received accolades for her fluid use of analogue and digital sounds. Brimner has a wonderfully expressive vocal range that she incorporates with spoken word, rap and beatboxing”.
“Brandon Anderson .Paak has come a long way since he first played drums in his local church, aged 11.
A multi-instrumentalist, singer and producer, he is signed to Dr Dre’s Aftermath label, and appeared on six tracks of the producer’s Compton album.
Dre snapped him up after hearing Suede, a charismatic, raunchy single by his NXWorries side project. But before that, Paak had spent almost a decade struggling on the periphery of the music industry, including a period in which he found himself homeless after losing his job on a marijuana farm.”
PHOTO CREDIT: Brian Vu
“Johanne Swanson has lived in many places, but hasn’t felt particularly at home in any of them. She started making music as Yohuna six years ago while on a year-long exchange program in New Mexico, a long ways away from where she grew up in Wisconsin. “I wanted to be in a radically different environment,” she recalls. “It was the first place I lived where I didn’t know anyone.” That isolation led her to the internet and an old Casio keyboard, both of which she used as a means to connect to the rest of the world”.
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PHOTO CREDIT: Vogue
“From Maryland to New York via Europe, singer-songwriter Maggie Rogers’ physical journey has influenced her developing musical style.
Aged nine, she learned to play the harp and the banjo, and her early songwriting explored folk music. By the time she reached middle school, she’d added the piano and guitar to her repertoire, but a trip to Europe changed her outlook on music.
“I studied abroad in France and had a really spiritual experience with dance music there,” she explains.
“Suddenly this thing that had always been the most unnatural and the most artificial, I understood the release of it. That since there was a fire, people have been beating sticks together.”
She returned to New York to study songwriting and production, receiving an unexpected break when Pharrell Williams dropped into her class to give some tips”.
“Jain is a French singer already blowing up in her native France, along with Russia and Poland - her debut album Zanaka went to No. 5 in the French album charts, and her label have just begun pushing her name here with some incredibly catchy songs”.
“Grand Jury Records has signed some talented artists in the past few years (including Day Wave and Mothers). One of their recent up and coming signings is a four-person indie-rock outfit from Minnesota called Hippo Campus. Don't let the name fool you -- the band creates timeless, dreamy soundscapes that will remind you of ANOHNI”.
“Baltimore-born artist Jonah Wise combines sensualism with spriritualism for what he once referred to as "pagan gospel", but has since renounced that term.
His five-track EP blisters, which was barely 20 minutes long, is an exquisitely crafted work that is not unlike walking through a hall of mirrors. It twists slowly, through ominous drums and bursts of static; pulled together by Wise's shivery, soulful voice”.
“With songs about North Korea and Donald Trump, Cabbage would run the risk of being pigeon-holed as a political band… if it wasn’t for their filthy sense of humour.
On the song Dinner Lady, singer and lyricist Joe Martin darkly recalls his real-life experiences of serving school meals over a slinky riff: “I got so bored and idle / Served enough sausage rolls to make me suicidal.”
"We think it's such a waste that bands have a platform to say things and just don't" says Martin, whose poetry is inspired by “the bard of Salford”, John Cooper Clark”.
“Reading four-piece The Amazons burst onto the new music radar with Stay With Me, a raucous burst of power chord energy, in March this year.
Produced by Tom Dalgety (Royal Blood, The Maccabees), the song was their first release after signing to the prestigious indie label Fiction Records, home to the likes of Tame Impala, The Maccabees and Nick Mulvey.
Over the next eight months, The Amazons emerged as one of the most exciting young bands to watch, garnering new fans and word-of-mouth praise through their energetic performances and an explosive sound.
The quartet arrived at their current line-up in 2014, working night shifts in supermarkets to fund their music, while releasing nascent recordings like Something In The Water and Junk Food Forever”.
Will Joseph Cook
“Will Joseph Cook is a sunny slice of pop that could brighten any number of rainy days. The 19-year-old singer-songwriter from Kent crafts witty, mature pop earworms that tackle tricky relationships and the everyday parts of life that worry all of us”.
Rag ‘n’ Bone Man
“Rory Graham, aka Rag‘n’Bone Man was always destined to make music.
Growing up in his parents' home in Uckfield, music was ever-present; whether it was his mum singing, his dad strumming on the guitar, or blues, rock and reggae tunes spinning from his dad’s record player.
As a teenager, he embraced hip-hop, MC-ing with a drum and bass crew and testing out his rap skills at open-mic nights. He then became a member of hip-hop collective The Rum Committee, while perfecting his singing skills performing at his local Blues Jam nights.
That melting pot of musical styles is evident in Rag'n'Bone Man’s solo material; which puts a modern twist on the raw soul of Joe Cocker.
In 2015, the emotive Bitter End, from his Disfigured EP, made many people sit up and take notice, and gained the singer support from the likes of Huw Stephens (Radio 1), MistaJam (Radio 1 and 1Xtra) and Jo Whiley (Radio 2)”.
“Dua Lipa’s deep, smoky voice and rhythmic flow that pulls from contemporary hip-hop, classic soul and pop has taken her into studios in London, LA, Stockholm, New York and Toronto, and into sessions with Emile Haynie (Lana Del Rey, FKA Twigs) and Andrew Wyatt (Miike Snow, Charli XCX). The honey-voiced songstress is set to release her debut album in early 2017, featuring an arsenal of songs rooted in pop but gilded by hip-hop and soul affectations; these are urbane musings on being young and mad; sharp and soulful pop parables about hustling for what you believe in”.
“Appraisals of singer-songwriter Declan McKenna invariably mention his age. At 17 years old, the British teenager has already garnered the sort of buzz that many musicians twice his age would give anything for.
After winning Glastonbury Festival’s Emerging Talent Competition in 2015, Declan shot into the music industry’s spotlight, shortly afterwards self-releasing his debut single, Brazil.
This polemical debut, which lambasts FIFA's local community involvement at the 2014 World Cup, secured him national airplay with a coveted space on Radio 1’s playlist and a champion in Huw Stephens.
With support from BBC Music Introducing, 2016 saw him perform at Maida Vale, Radio 1’s Big Weekend and Later… with Jools Holland”.
PHOTO CREDIT: Ebru Yildiz
“In my country, and in a lot of countries, people still go to the well to get their water,” Vagabon’s Laetitia Tamko explains to me as she begins to reveal the metaphorical crux of one of her new songs. Tamko grew up in Cameroon before moving to New York in the early 2000s, and she instinctually refers back to her personal history to make this central point. Choosing her words extra-carefully, Tamko describes the ritual of going to a well in detail: “You walk it back to your house, you use the water or put it in a container, and then you do the same trip back,” she continues. “People don’t always check to see if there’s any more left after they’ve taken what they need”.
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“If you haven't heard of Billie Eilish yet, don't worry, that's about to change. At only 14 years old, the pop chanteuse has the ethereal vocals of Lana Del Rey and the potential to be the next Lorde. We were taken by Eilish's track "Ocean Eyes" earlier this year, as it makes you feel like you're floating underwater”.
“Denzel Curry first caught our attention in 2011 on his mixtape King Remembered via fellow Carol City rapper, SpaceGhostPurrp. Denzel joined the controversial underground crew RVIDXR KLVN and released a series of mixtapes and collaborations until moving on with other members to focus on solo work. The combination of ‘90s throwback vibes and bass music from Miami created a unique sound that cut through with collaborations featuring young, new artists (spawning the sound of A$AP Mob)”.
PHOTO CREDIT: Chloe Newman
“Jorja Smith was working at Starbucks when she posted her first single, Blue Lights, onto SoundCloud this January.
Sombre and introspective, the song is a semi-autobiographical look at her childhood in Walsall in the West Midlands – referencing the number four bus she used to catch home, and the Mobb Deep song Shook One, which she used to mime in her bedroom.
Within a week, it had racked up 100,000 plays, earning shout outs from Drake, Stormzy and Skrillex. She brewed her last coffee soon afterwards.
Smith grew up around music: her father played in a band, Second Naicha; she was a chorister at school and wrote her first song, Life Is A Path Worth Taking, at the age of 11”.
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“Since releasing her attention-grabbing You Should Be Here mixtape in 2015 -- which later earned a Grammy nomination in the Best Urban Contemporary Album category -- Kehlani's career has progressed in carefully plotted steps. While most artists would follow a tape like Be Here with a steady stream of new projects, Kehlani mostly held back, limiting herself to a few feature appearances (Zayn's "Wrong," Belly's "You," Pusha T's "Retribution") and then releasing a slow drip of singles, including "CRZY," "Distraction" and "Advice." Her "Gangsta" was also on the soundtrack for the action blockbuster Suicide Squad, and benefited from the promotional blitz behind the film, as it peaked at No. 41 on the Hot 100. Kehlani is following her biggest hit to date with her debut album: SweetSexySavage, which arrives in January”.
“Four teenage girls front LA pop outfit The Aces. Together they create sun-soaked songs that are dancefloor ready. Their debut track "Stuck" is just enough pop and rock that it falls in the same vein as The 1975 and HAIM. This fall saw them sign with Red Bull Records, and hopefully a debut EP will be on the way in 2017”.
Before wrapping this mamma jamma of 2016’s music up let me give us reasons to be cheerful next year. You don’t need me to tell you how fraught this year has been for music: legends leaving us and many praying we make it to 2017 without any further deaths (at the time of this feature nobody else has passed). To be fair, there has been a tonne of great music produced – and wonderful acts primed for next year – to keep the tears at bay and provide hope. In case you need a few more pick-me-ups; here is a list of things that will make 2017 a lot finer than this year.
Radiohead Will Play Glastonbury
As we have heard from the organisers themselves (http://www.glastonburyfestivals.co.uk/radiohead-confirmed-as-first-glastonbury-2017-headliner/) it looks like Radiohead are all set for their third visit to Glastonbury. On Friday 23rd June they will play the Pyramid Stage armed with more songs than ever – following the release of their latest album, A Moon Shaped Pool. Anyone who witnessed their – legendary and epic – set at 1997’s Festival will be primed and hungry for more. It is likely to be a fantastic gig and reminder of just how crucial and needed Radiohead are in modern music. Before they take to the stage, here is their 1997 turn and a reminder of what they brought to the Glastonbury throngs
It’s Not 2016 Anymore (Almost)!
Any year that isn’t 2016 is a good thing, right?! The fact we are about to depart from the worst year in living memory (for musical deaths) can only be a good thing: let us hope a more prosperous and happy one is upon us. For those who need a reminder of the talent we have said goodbye to in 2016, I compiled a playlist from the legends gone and just why they will always be remembered.
Greater Diversity in Music
My last feature looked at racial diversity in music and hope the landscape is becoming less homogenised. Of course, we are some way off seeing true equality (for black acts) but positive movements have been made. With BBC producing an Urban-heavy ‘Sounds of…’ list for next year; Skepta scooping the Mercury Prize and some wonderful albums from black artists in the mainstream – it seems 2017 will be more diverse and provide greater exposure for black artists.
Amazing Music and New Talent
PICTURED: The Japanese House
I have included many of the acts being lauded and tipped by tastemakers: those artists destined for big things in 2017. In my next feature, I will be collating a selection of acts I feel will be making waves in the underground – off the back of my three-part ‘Ones to Watch 2017’ feature. Not only will some of mainstream’s titans be making new music but a whole new crop of albums and songs will arrive from those fresh and eager. Take a look at the lists compiled by magazines and music sites as there are so many great artists waiting to be discovered: next year’s music will be busy, bright and truly memorable.
New, Big Albums Arriving
PICTURED: You Me at Six
Already confirmed – to be released early next year – are records from the likes of You Me at Six (Night People on 6th January), The Flaming Lips (Oczy Mlody on 11th January) and The xx (I See You on January 13th). Into February we have Elbow’s Little Fictions (3rd), Alison Krauss’ Windy City (17th) and Ryan Adams’ Prisoner (17th). The Jesus and Mary Chain and Nelly Furtado release material in March and Deep Purple in April.
Albums speculated for release include efforts from Arcade Fire, Depeche Mode and Fleetwood Mac; Gorrilaz, LCD Soundsystem and The Shins. Of course, there are likely to be some surprise releases and albums dropping out of nowhere – maybe Radiohead will be busy again?! I know the short collection of names above are likely to feature this time next year when we look at the best albums of 2017. We need good music to lift the spirits and inspire the mind. I know next year will provide us so much awesome music: we have incurred a lot of loss and deserve the comfort music provides. Keep your eyes out for some exceptional albums in 2017.
Summer is Almost Here!
We are all fed up with the dark and cold so the fact summer is not too far away should bring cheers and relief. With summer comes festivals! Look at The Festival Calendar (http://www.thefestivalcalendar.co.uk/) and you get a run-down of all the best festivals you should be aware of. Aside from August’s Reading (and Leeds) Festival – where Muse are headlining – you have Glastonbury and Radiohead’s much-fabled appearances. Wilderness Festival will come to Cornbury Park Estate on 3rd August; V Festival is on 18th August whilst Lovebox arrives at London’s Victoria Park the month before (14th July). Throw into the mix Bestival (7th-10th September); many others for the British public to get their teeth into. If you fancy leaving the country then https://www.everfest.com/music-festivals provides more depth on the international festival dates. There is no excuse to sit around and bemoan the lack of great live music. That, on its own, should be enough to eradicate the memories of this year and ensure that 2017 is…
A much happier year than 2016.