TV Derivation

So a good 17 years after Guy Ritchie’s influential crime caper, Snatch, took to cinemas it appears to be being reimagined for the smaller screen. The streaming-service boom has seen the viewership and quality of TV shows grow exponentially and forced other networks such as HBO up their game considerably. But do we really want to see a rehashing of an already great film, starring Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) from Harry Potter? Of course, this isn’t an entirely new phenomenon – for the last few years the big-budget TV studios have wheeled out various ‘reimaginings’ and ‘spin-offs’ of much loved films. Michael Crichton’s sci-fi western was brought to new audiences with last years hugely popular Westworld, alongside the likes of Bates Motel acting as a contemporary prequel to Hitchcock’s seminal Psycho. There also seems to be a current trend for returning to nostalgic British 90s/early 00s films, as seen by the recent Trainspotting 2, a mere 21 years after Danny Boyle’s enigmatic and stylish original.

Has the Hollywood dreams factory run out of steam? It does appear that way, with many of the big studios looking to feed into these already existing worlds (often created first on the screen) rather than take the risk of investing in something new and original. With endless sequels and prequels plaguing the cinema box offices and sucking the originality out of the long tradition of the ‘summer blockbuster’, is the land of TV heading in a similar direction?

Having never seen Westworld nor Bates Motel it’s hard for me to comment on their merits, other than to state that both shows have gathered positive reviews and accrued large audiences. One I can talk about with more authority however is the recent TV reinvention of one of my favourite films, the Coen Brothers’ 1996 classic Fargo. Whilst at first apprehensive, this series really grabbed me to such an extent I’d even openly admit I preferred it to the original film. Upholding that dark sense of humour and hosting some of the finest, most stylish cinematography I’ve seen in a television series, Fargo was mesmerising. Its casting was on the nail in both its seasons, with some stunning performances from big screen heavyweights Martin Freeman, Billy Bob Thornton and Kirsten Dunst. For anyone with doubts as to whether these ‘indulgent vanity projects’ preserve the legacy of such classic films, I urge you to watch Fargo.

That’s also not to deter from the merits of TV studios that have brought us some great original TV shows in the last year. Charlie Brooker’s haunting and intelligent Black Mirror series was original small screen filmmaking at its most poignant, whilst Netflix’s Stranger Things won the hearts of millions with its nostalgic nod to 80s era pop culture, whilst still maintaining an original and engaging story. Even in terms of lower-budget TV-offerings last year saw the BBC take a punt at Edinburgh Fringe Winner, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s off-the-wall black comedy Fleabag, which garnered great critical acclaim. Prompting the question what is the need for such TV derivation? Especially when there’s already such a rich abundance of ideas out there, waiting to get its shot at the big time. Is it really about a return to worlds and characters we loved the first time around or is it more studios looking to ride another big paycheck off of the back of something they already know to be popular?

Instinctively, I am inclined to believe that originality should prevail over sequels, prequels and reimagined interpretations. However with the likes of Fargo and Westworld raking in awards nominations and the hearts of many a critic, perhaps this method of transferring films to the small screen is an effective way of allowing new writers to give these worlds a fresh lease of life. Although in the case of Snatch my expectations are very low, with the trailer looking more like a rough night down the Queen Vic than the cockney capers Guy Ritchie used to champion, but I’m prepared to be surprised.

Album of the Year (10-1)

Picking a top 10 in a year as rich in musical talent as 2016 is a pretty thankless task. In the end I found myself with a interesting mix of legendary artists, upcoming talents and innovative greats. Thank you for following the list and here are my personal ten favourite albums of the last year.

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10. A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service

The first of the ten (what can only be described as) masterpieces that this list takes in is the first album from legendary alternative hip-hop collective, A Tribe Called Quest, in 18 years. An album that also happens to be their last, following the untimely death of Phife Dawg (only aged 45). We Got it From Here… Thank you 4 Your Service is the sound of a collective working at their most innovative and powerful, a restless epic of an album tackling race, Trump and US society as a whole. Opening track ‘The Space Programme’ sees the group flexing their muscles, a socially aware insight into the American psyche, before launching into the political sledgehammer of ‘We the people…’, a protest song of the modern era, slamming the current state of US politics. We Got it From Here… is Tribe laying down the gauntlet and urging others to continue their legacy, with the record featuring many of the biggest names from the new generation of intelligent hip-hop artists including Kendrick Lemar and Anderson Paak (both more than worthy successors). We Got it From Here… is a fully-fledged protest album of the modern era, with the New Yorkers never being ones to shy away from the big topics. The swansong of one of hip-hop’s finest.

Best Track: ‘We the People…’

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9. Bon Iver – 22, A Million

After five years out, Justin Vernon resurfaces with 22, A Million. Sonically it’s a million miles away from the delicate indie folk of For Emma, Forever Ago which gave us arguably his most famous track in ‘Skinny Love’. His latest album in contrast sounds like the by-product of time spent rubbing shoulders with the likes of Kanye West and James Blake, complete with outlandish titles, glitchy effects and auto-tune vocals. In spite of the sparkly electronic production, there still remains the Bon Iver subtlety to the record, with the likes of ’22 (Over Soooon)’, ‘715- Creeks’ and ’29 #Strafford APTS’ casting quieter, more introspective moments in contrast with the more classic, epicly scaled ’33 “God”’ and ‘8 (circle)’. In fact the record as a whole has a dreamy level of production, casting a spell on the listener, which is both familiar and yet idiosyncratic in its delivery. On 22, A Million Vernon established Bon Iver almost as the Radiohead of folk. An innovative and thought-provoking album that demands repeat listens.

Best Track: ’33″GOD”‘

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8. Frankie Cosmos – Next Thing

After releasing over 40 albums and EPs on Bandcamp, the former Porches bassist has expanded on her early promise with sophomore album Next Thing. A lo-fi indie rock rollercoaster, Cosmos has a distinct talent of cramming her unique brand of observational and witty suburban poetry into songs that barely outstay two and half minutes. In fact, the album (that consists of 15 songs) only runs for 28 minutes. With a distinct bedroom-DIY sound to tracks like ‘If I Had a Dog’ and ‘Too Dark’ alongside Cosmos’ slacker-esque vocal delivery you may be forgiven for thinking the album appears somewhat simplistic. But it’s the juxtaposition with the off-kilter, meandering lyrics that give Cosmos’ songs on Next Thing their real depth. Cosmos is the voice of angst-filled teens for a new generation, a hipster boy’s dream girl with razor sharp wit and uncompromising honesty in her songwriting (whether she’s tackling themes including her dead dog, romance or just chilling with friends). Next Thing is by far one of the most underrated albums of the year.

Best Track: ‘Fool’

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7. ANOHNI – Hopelessness

Is protest music dead? It’s a question often asked by music aficionados and critics, with what some describe as popular music’s refusal to concern itself with the political sphere. ANOHNI’s Mercury Prize nominated Hopelessness obliterates this idea, and that’s just on the first track. The latest work from the artist previously known as Anthony and the Johnsons, Hopelessness tackles the topics very few pop artists have a dared to go, traversing climate change (‘4 Degrees’), drone warfare (‘Drone Bomb Me’), capitalism (‘Why Did You Separate Me From the Earth?’) and the monitoring ‘Big Brother’ complex of modern governments (‘Watch Me’) to the swirling, kaleidoscopic synthpop sounds expertly orchestrated by the brilliant Hudson Mohawke and Oneohtrix Point Never. Hopelessness packs a punch like very few albums released in 2016, a lingering sinister atmosphere lurking under the glossy production values and soaring electronica. Hopelessness is an album of the 21st century, providing a dark outlook on the future and acting as a vital piece of protest art. It’s stark and to the point, I mean how often do you get an artist so explicitly reference terrorism, child molesters, execution and chemotherapy, and can truly go down as one of the masterpieces of 2016.

Best Track: ‘Drone Bomb Me’

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6. David Bowie – Blackstar

Has there been ever been another artist who has been as influential in shaping the musical landscape as David Bowie? Whether it be the glam rock persona he created on 1972’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders (possibly my favourite all-time album) to the soulful, art rock material he created with Brian Eno in the Berlin sessions Bowie has always been an innovator and exceptional musical talent. Something that was acknowledged on a widespread scale following his death two days after releasing last year’s Blackstar. But Blackstar should be examined on its own merits. An expanisve mix of art rock, jazz and experimentalism, Blackstar exceeds expectations and them some, giving a brutally honest insight into the final years of one of the world’s greatest rock stars. Bowie has never been one to completely open up on record and there’s still the arty playfulness in his lyrics and visuals (the music videos are something to behold). There’s an enchanting and haunting air to singles ‘Blackstar’ and ‘Lazarus’, whilst the jazz caper that is ‘Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)’ shows off his flair for invention and intricacy. Blackstar is the sound of Bowie grappling with his own mortality, but this final musical flourish is the perfect end to his legacy, with the music he has created sure to live long beyond the great man himself.

Best Track: ‘Lazarus’

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5. Kate Tempest – Let Them Eat Chaos

South East London street poet Kate Tempest is very much the leading light in British spoken word. The successor to 2014’s Everybody Down, Let Them Eat Chaos sees Tempest tread grittier ground and address the state of the world through a series of vignettes and characters. Backed by an ever-changing soundscape of hip-hop beats and distorted electronica, Tempest has created a restless and shifting platform that gives her honest and dark poetry even greater depth and meaning. To anyone that says protest music is dead, I urge you to listen to Let Them Eat Chaos, with ‘Europe is Lost’ in particular standing out as one of the finest examples of the millennial voices screaming out against the emoji generation and growth of the far-right. However it’s the dark, emotional urban tales like ‘Tunnel Vision’ and ‘Ketamine for Breakfast’ that pack the biggest punch. Let Them Eat Chaos is less a piece of music and more a piece of fine art, as Tempest examines the lives of Londoners in 2016 Britain, savagely insightful and packed full of dark satire. Is there a more talented lyricist in Britain right now? I can’t think of any.

Best Track: ‘Europe is Lost’

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4. Michael Kiwanuka – Love & Hate

Now this is one that may come as somewhat of a surprise. Standing amongst some of the most formidable names in music is British modern soul artist Michael Kiwanuka. Following his winning of the BBC’s Sound of 2016 poll back in 2012, Kiwanuka picked up two Mercury Prize nominations and was even handpicked by Kanye himself to work on his record The Life of Pablo (which ultimately not working out), but it was his sophomore album Love & Hate that stands out as his finest achievement to date. It may not be as political as some of the other albums in the upper echelons of this list, nor contain the odd artistic nuances of Bowie or Bon Iver’s records, but on scale and entertainment value it more than stands its ground. From the sprawlingly epic, Pink Floyd indebted opener of ‘Cold Little Heart’ to the grooving and melodic ‘One More Night’, Kiwanuka consistently delivers high-end soul bangers drenched with interesting guitar effects, nostalgic nods to Motown and personal lyrics (which see Kiwanuka explore his ethnicity and the role of religion in his life). Love & Hate is a record that deserves to catapult Kiwanuka’s status to that of one of the best singer-songwriters operating in Britain at the moment.

Best Track: ‘Love & Hate’

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3. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

If there was an artist that could deservedly follow on from Bowie it would be Radiohead, the experimental chameleons of the modern era. Opening with archaic strings and Thom Yorke’s haunting falsetto, ‘Burn the Witch’ set the scene for what was to be a dark and angst filled record, and maybe Radiohead’s finest since they broke the mould with 2000’s Kid A. There’s a certain eeriness to the soundscapes carved by Yorke, Greenwood and co. on tracks like ‘Daydreaming’ and ‘Glass Eyes’, whilst even the grooving bass lines of ‘The Numbers’ are contrasted by Yorke’s apocalyptic lyrics. And then there’s ‘True Love Waits’, a song that’s long been part of the Radiohead cannon and finally got its first studio produced version, leaving A Moon Shaped Pool on an emotive and powerful closing note. A dark, menacing album reflected through the lens of ambient synths, beautiful melody’s, warped string arrangements and Yorke’s distinctive voice and lyricism, A Moon Shaped Pool is quite easily one of the best albums of 2016 and reaffirms Radiohead’s place as one of music’s best innovators.

Best Track: ‘True Love Waits’

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2. Leonard Cohen – You Want it Darker

In what could easily have been deemed the year of the solo artist (there are a lot on this list), it’s unsurprising to find Leonard Cohen at second place in this list. You Want it Darker is very much Cohen’s swansong, a dark and brooding album that sees the great poet wrestle with his own humanity. In many ways it would be easy (and quite lazy) to draw comparisons to Bowie’s Blackstar, a similar record of finality, however whilst Bowie’s represents the artistic flair of his illustrious career, Cohen paints a starker picture. The opening title track itself (possibly also the best off the record) sets the tone, packed with religious imagery and set to menacing gravelly growl of Cohen as he readies himself for the inevitable. In fact, given Cohen’s age at the time of recording (82), it sounds remarkably modern and fresh, with the sparse instrumentation on much tracks acting as the perfect vehicle for his twisted and emotive wordplay as he looks back on his life. A wise and honest appraisal of his own career as wordsmith and one of the finest poetic voices music has offered up. He may be ‘out of the game’, but You Want it Darker is the perfect final chapter of his legacy.

Best Track: ‘You Want it Darker’

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1. Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial

And finally, clinching the top spot of my countdown is Car Seat Headrest’s Teens of Denial. Following a prolific Bandcamp career (releasing 12 albums on the platform), Car Seat Headrest’s 10th studio album, and second signed to the Matador label and first of entirely new material is for me the most vital record of 2016. Having cut his teeth on DIY indie rock, cult hero Will Toldeo (only 23), treads newer ground on Teens of Denial, straddling genres somewhere between the slacker influence of Stephen Malkamus and Pavement and classic guitar led indie rock, whilst also throwing in a smattering of horns and disjointed song structures for good measure. The record is an anarchic 70-minute train ride through the psyche of its front man, twisting and turning and even referencing Dido. In spite of the biting guitar riffs, Toledo’s ear for melody and epic, shifting scale of tracks like ‘Vincent’ and ‘Ballad of the Costa Concordia’, it’s Toledo’s wit and pure song-writing ability that makes Teens of Denial such an intriguing listen. Lifted straight from his sub-conscious, Toledo marvels at the mundane as he muses on drug taking with friends, paranoia and feelings of inadequacy set to an indie rock soundtrack that ebbs and flows at the most unexpected moments. However, there’s still a hint of the DIY ethos on tracks like ‘Fill in the Blank’ and ‘1937 State Park’, crammed full of observational lyrics and fuzzing from start to finish despite the far bigger budget at Toledo’s disposal. A smart, sharp record and truly 2016’s masterpiece.

Best Track: ‘Ballad of the Costa Concordia’

Album of the Year (20-11)

As we come to the penultimate instalment of my ‘Album of 2016’ countdown, I thought I ought to take the opportunity to address some of the albums that didn’t quite make it onto the list, for a number of reasons. Firstly, although I do have a lot of free time as a student, I can’t listen to everything and there are numerous albums I still really want to hear  (Solange’s A Seat at the Table, Margo Price’s Midwest Farmer’s Daughter and Anderson .Paak’s Malibu to name a few). In fact only yesterday I listened to S U R V I V E’s brilliant RR739, an album that could easily have made the list, and then there was the Run the Jewels surprise Christmas release I’m yet to properly get a look at. 2016 most certainly was a good year for music and compiling a list was never a stretch with a wealth of talent on offer from a number of differing genres. However, there are a few releases (some of which received great acclaim) that I chose to omit. Grime was a massive in 2016 and whilst I admired both Kano and Skepta’s records (both clearly talented urban wordsmiths) for me personally they don’t come close to the 50 records on this list. Something which is similar to Frank Ocean’s Blonde, a clearly talented artist and an album that has been brilliantly produced but doesn’t do much for me, maybe I just don’t get it. Then I think of artists like The 1975 and Beyoncé of whom I’ll never really get. I hope you find this list an interesting read, even if you disagree with some of the albums I have left out and please checkout the big one, as I reveal my top 10 next!

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20. Sunflower Bean – Human Ceremony

Part of the recently rather dormant New York indie scene, Sunflower Bean are not your average indie band. For a rag-tag trio of misfits, the band have crafted an intricate sound that lies somewhere between the complex chorus effect noodling of The Cure (‘Human Ceremony’), sledgehammer, distorted riffs of Black Sabbath (‘Wall Watcher) and psychedelic breakdowns of Tame Impala (‘2013’). There’s a youthful vigor to tracks like ‘Come On’ and ‘This Kind of Feeling’ that almost borders on punk before you hear the angelic tones of model/ rock vocalist Julia Cumming, that explodes into more dream pop territory. In fact, each member of the band oozes talent and is something that is clearly visible on ‘Human Ceremony’ as the band tightly traverse shifting time signatures and winding psychedelic jams. Lead guitarist Nick Kivlen makes use of a vast pedal board that would make many a guitar enthusiast envious, as he spits out an ever changing array of sounds and effects on tracks like ‘I was Home’ and ‘Creation Myth’. You can’t fault Sunflower Bean’s scope on their debut album, with lead single ‘Easier Said’ also showcasing their ability to deliver softer yet rich ballads as well as exuberant large-scale space jams. Human Ceremony is the work of a truly great band that deserve to go on to bigger and better things, another great debut effort of a truly spectacular year for new artists.

Best Track: ‘Easier Said’

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19. Frightened Rabbit – Painting of a Panic Attack

Glaswegian alt-rockers Frightened Rabbit have been at the top of their respective scene for a long while and on album number five they’ve done it again. A customarily melancholic shadow is cast across Painting of a Panic Attack, something that was only helped by the fact The National’s Aaron Dessner was on production duty. Following in the footsteps of their first major label record Pedestrian Verse, Painting of a Panic Attack sees the band experiment with interesting electronics and synths whilst still preserving their talent for heart-on-sleeve choruses as seen on single ‘Get Out’. Lyrically its as strong as anything they’ve put out previously, bookended by the eerie turmoil of ‘Death Dream’ and the stripped down epic ‘Die Like a Rich Boy’. Whilst Scott Hutchinson’s way with words have always been one of the bands best attributes, it’s the sonic landscape that they’ve crafted that takes centre stage on Painting of a Panic Attack, with the orchestral grandeur of ‘I Wish I Was Sober’ and the eccentric scale of ‘400 Bones’ showing a newfound maturity in their songwriting. Another great album to an already strong canon of work, pushing Frightened Rabbit’s claim as possibly the best Scottish band out there at the moment.

Best Track: ‘Die Like a Rich Boy’

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18. Kevin Morby – Singing Saw

On his third solo record, Kevin Morby straddles traditional folk and the Americana of old with the modernity of his lyrical themes (with lead single ‘I Have Been to the Mountain’ referencing the current wave of police brutality). His hazy world-weary musings (often channeling a strong Dylan influence on the likes of ‘Singing Saw’ and ‘Water’) are placed on a gorgeous musical backdrop of lush guitar chords (‘Cut Me Down’), tranquil piano (‘Ferris Wheel’) and a beautiful cacophony of saxophone (‘Destroyer’). There is an air of classic rock to tracks like ‘Drunk On A Star’ and ‘Dorothy’ with Morby’s croon reflecting that of Lou Reed in the early 70s, whilst other tracks like the waltzing ‘Water’ have a similarly large scale. Singing Saw is the sound of a great singer-songwriter finding beauty and inspiration in the natural world, rather than the concrete cities. And honest and warm album with spirit.

Best Track: ‘I Have Been to the Mountain’

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17. Julia Jacklin – Don’t Let the Kids Win

Following on from the success of fellow singer-songwriting compatriots Courtney Barnett, Fraser A. Gorman and D.D Dumbo comes Aussie songstress Julia Jacklin. On her debut album Don’t Let the Kids Win, Jacklin forms a subdued mood and quirky aura as she switches gear between the upbeat distorted guitars of ‘Coming of Age’ and the moody indie-country of ‘LA Dream’ and ‘Elizabeth’. An absorbing and intelligent record, Don’t Let the Kids Win sees Jacklin deliver her lyrical insights into well-trodden themes such as coming-of-age, drug use and homesickness (‘Motherland’) with a cynical smile and an appropriate degree of wit. This in turn adds a sense of modernity to an album packed with yester-year nostalgia, such as on the waltzing ‘Pool Party’ or the stirring ‘Leadlight’. Don’t Let the Kids Win is an album that revels in its subtly and grows in stature with repeat listens. A quality album that stands as further proof that Australia is home to some of the best musical talent out there at the moment, with Jacklin looking like someone to keep an eye on.

Best Track: ‘Pool Party’

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16. Hamilton Leithauser + Rotsam – I Had a Dream that You Were Mine

It’s often difficult for supergroups to really make an impact, with music history littered with endless examples of such labours of love not really coming off (Audioslave, Velvet Revolver and ChickenFoot to name a few, whilst even The Last Shadow Puppets most recent album was so self-indulgent it was hard to tell whether it was serious or some kind of inside joke). However in this case Vampire Weekend’s chief visionary Rostam Batmanglij and The Walkmen’s principal vocalist Hamilton Leithauser have put together a baroque pop masterpiece that captures an array of genres and spans numerous time periods. From the doo-wopping ‘Rough Going (I Won’t Let Up)’ to the Bob Dylan indebted folk of ‘You Ain’t That Young Kid’ and back to the twinkly piano and orchestral charm of final track ‘1959’, I Had A Dream That You Were Mine is a nostalgic nod to the music of yesteryear, whilst also bringing such styles through to the 21st century. The record proves that this is truly a match made in heaven, with Leithauser’s delicate croon complimenting the intricate production value of Rostam perfectly and cementing their status as two of alternative music’s greatest minds.

Best Track: ‘A 1000 Times’

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15. Angel Olsen – My Woman

After three albums of lo-fi indie-folk, Olsen’s fourth and latest full-length solo record strikes you from the opening chord of ‘Intern’. The immersive cosmic synths and full frontal vocals of the opener are a statement of intent and proof that this is an artist that is far more than just an emotional folk singer. Toying with various sonics, My Woman is a multi-faceted beast, with the retro 50s vibe of ‘Never Be Mine’, slacker riffs of ‘Give it Up’ and soft synth chords of ‘Woman’ acting as a backdrop for her exploratory themes of love, pain and faith. Standout track however has to be the grungy, stand-offish, slightly tongue-in-cheek anthem that is ‘Shut Up Kiss Me’, which was in fact probably one of my favourite songs of the year. A track that screams cool, and in fact sums up what ‘My Woman’ is all about, taking Olsen’s ‘folk songstress’ name tag and obliterating it to smithereens. My Woman is the sound of an artist flexing her muscles to show what she can do, a superb, melodic record that definitely leaves listeners wanting more.

Best Track: ‘Shut Up Kiss Me’

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14. Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression

In a year that saw the passing of Bowie and with Lou Reed already three years removed, who’d have thought Iggy Pop would be one of the final legends standing. After decades spent crafting some of the most vital albums in rock music history, Pop’s most recent output has consisted of relatively sub-par albums (released both as a solo artist and with a reformed Stooges). Post Pop Depression however lands as a crunching statement of Pop’s legacy and a real highpoint in his later career. Under the guidance of rock music’s best current mogul and innovator, Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age fame, Pop has adapted a new, sleeker stoner rock sound which has a distinct sexual aroma and lashes out with biting delivery. Also adding to the hired muscle are Arctic Monkeys’ Matt Helders and fellow QOTSA member Dean Fertita, building on the revitalization of one of rock music’s most majestic figures. If this does happen to be Pop’s final record, he hasn’t half delivered, with the Godfather of punk yet again demonstrating why he is viewed as such a revered icon by so may people.

Best Track: ‘Gardenia’

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13. Jamie T – Trick

Very few British artists have managed to capture the imagination of the British youth in the way Jamie T has. Transitioning from an urban street poet, with his unique blend of indie-rap on his hectic first two albums Panic Prevention and Kings & Queens, before returning after a five-year hiatus with the more mature, world-weary Carry on the Grudge. An ingenious wordsmith who’s tales of urban living in South London sound remarkably fresh, whilst tipping their hat to legends of old such as The Clash and The Libertines. Trick continues this more mature path, which began on his previous album, kicking off with the towering, experimental Tinfoil Boy, a demented chug of an opener that is filled with dread and despair. An undoubtedly British artist, Treays channels the spirit of grime on ‘Drone Strike’ before the anthemic punk of ‘Tescoland’ which nonchalantly stick a middle finger up to the US scene he’s never really cracked. As ever Trick lays its soul bare with references to suicide, the current state of the UK and drug use, however the over-riding feeling is that of celebration despite the doomy subject matter. The emotive ‘Sign of the Times’ is a true epic, whilst ‘Crossfire Love’ reaches similarly exultant highs. The Wimbledon-born troubadour has always been someone I’ve been a long-time admirer of and with Trick has again produced a painfully honest work and possibly his magnum opus.

Best Track: ‘Tescoland’

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12. Whitney – Light Upon the Lake

US indie band Whitney have really been bubbling under the surface in 2016, only to sneak onto some of the most prestigious Album of the Year lists last month and rightly so. An unlikely super-group the Chicago band came about following the break-up of guitarist Max Kakachek’s previous band, The Smith Westerns, in 2014, with drummer and lead vocalist Julien Ehrlich also previously playing drums for psychedelic rock band Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Light Upon the Lake channels a wistful 1960s folk sound crossing the folk sensibilities of an early Dylan with the high-pitched vocals of Neil Young, with an added hint of rambling Creedence Clearwater Revival esque guitar lines. Whilst there’s a more than a healthy dosage of nostalgia, this doesn’t prohibit the record and in fact together the duo have crafted their own brand of heartfelt, soulful alternative rock, which often finds itself leaning towards Americana. Tracks like ‘No Woman’ and ‘No Matter Where We Go’ are whimsical guitar pop anthems that can’t help but worm their way into your subconscious and carefully interwoven with string and horn arrangements. A charming record, rich in texture and in heart.

Best Track: ‘No Woman’

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11. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree

Artists don’t come rawer than the Australian ‘Prince of Darkness’, otherwise known as Nick Cave. In spite of most of the album being written before the tragic death of his 15 year old son back in 2015, it is still a dark and grueling listen, as Cave eloquently explores mortality and the depth of humanity to a sparse soundscape of cavernous piano and electronic warps. A brooding, grief-striken record Skeleton Tree is packed with emotion from the poetic, visceral howl of ‘Jesus Alone’ to the frail cries of ‘I Need You’ and ending on the title track Skeleton Tree. In fact from start to finish the album documents Cave’s comprehension with the immeasurable sorrow transitioning to a point of acceptance on the final track. Skeleton Tree is an absolutely masterful work, which would probably have placed higher if it wasn’t such a difficult listen. That being said it is still most certainly a rewarding listen and an example of one of the best songwriters of a generation working at his best.

Best Track: ‘I Need You’

Album of the Year (30-21)

As we grow closer to the business end of the list, ordering the albums becomes a more difficult task, with many edits and reshuffles taking place minutes before publishing (also causing me to be a day late). Eventually though, I feel that I’ve settled upon an order that best reflects my thoughts on the albums that place from 30 to 21 on my ‘Album of the Year’ list.

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30. Kaytranada – 99.9%

Haitian-Canadian producer, Kaytranada, made waves earlier this year when he dropped debut album 99.9%, an eclectic mix of bustling electro set with a distinct alternative hip hop groove and flourishes of abstract funk and neo-soul. As is evident from that description, the record is fairly genre defying, something that is clear from the wide variety of its collaborators, with the record seeing Kaytranada fuse the likes of Craig David, Vic Mensa, Anderson .Paak and Little Dragon to thrilling effect. On 99.9% Kaytranada engineers the right balance between quirky leftfield production and traditional rap/pop sensibilities (e.g. ‘Together’, ‘Glowed Up’) to make a record that whilst quirky is still very accessible with wider audiences. A melting pot of sounds and beats, 99.9% is as innovative as its head-turning album artwork, which is no mean feat.

Best Track: ‘GLOWED UP’

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29. Public Access T.V. – Never Enough

Public Access TV are a band I’ve been following closely since the release of their debut single ‘Monaco’ back in January 2014 and their inclusion in the NME Radar column. Flying very much under the radar, this New York four-piece have managed to produce one of the most authentic rock n’ roll albums of the year. With early comparisons to indie rock legends The Strokes, the band captured a niche on Never Enough that sounds remarkably fresh, whilst also clearly tipping its hat to the hazy late 70s rock era. With the longest track clocking in at 3:48, Public Access TV specialise in short, sharp pop songs, with lead-singer John Eatherley’s impeccable ear for melody and knowledge of the genre standing out as one of the album’s greatest strengths. “They say the kids don’t like rock n’ roll any more” Eatherley ironically croons at the beginning of their most recent single ‘End of an Era’, a groovy indie rock track that laments the current state of the genre. They may not be the most gifted nor subtle lyricists, but they sure know their way around the general mechanics of what makes the perfect rock n roll and don’t pull any punches on a thrilling and exciting record.

Top Track: ‘I Don’t Wanna Live in California’

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28. Christine and the Queens – Chaleur Humaine

Christine & the Queens first came to my attention after their show-stopping performance on ‘Later with Jools Holland’. Swiftly after lead single ‘Tilted’ became one of my most played songs on Spotify, the perfect pop song that struck the perfect balance between experimentation and familiarity and something that spilled onto her debut album Chaleur Humaine. French artist Héloïse Letissier drew on inspirations from the London drag scene to create an arty, synthpop brainstew of a record which combines her unusual lyrics with abstract beats and infectious pop flicks. A true provocateur who is as electric and eccentric on record as she is in live performance, as he flutters between French and English and even flirts with Kanye West’s ‘Heartless’ on the sparse ‘Paradis Perdus’. Letissier is a true popstar of the 21st century, not afraid to push the boundaries of a rigid pop music scene, with Chaleur Humaine standing out as one of the best debuts of 2016.

Top Track: ‘Tilted’

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27. James Blake – The Colour in Anything

How do you follow up an album that introduced you to mainstream audiences and won you the Mercury prize? James Blake answered that question with last year’s gargantuan sonic experiment that was The Colour in Anything, a sprawling, progressive electronic record that pushes 76 minutes and features a cameo from Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and writing credits from the likes of and samples artists as diverse as Elliot Smith and Frank Ocean. A fragile and somber affair, The Colour in Anything is an album of the digital age as it’s sparse yet complex production compliments the melancholy of the Blake’s frail and haunting falsetto. There’s a subtlety to tracks like ‘Love Me in Whatever Way’ and ‘Radio Silence’ as the growing demonic electronics parallel the feelings Blake himself emits. An emotional and personal album, The Colour in Anything bares all and stays with you long after the phenomenal auto-tuned a cappella finale of ‘Meet You in the Maze’ has uttered it’s last breath.

Top Track: ‘Radio Silence’

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26. Metronomy – Summer 08

Summer 08 seemed to bypass a lot of people after its release this summer. After 2014’s Love Letters didn’t quite hit the same prominent highs as previous efforts (in particular Nights Out and The English Riviera), Joe Mount returns, however this time he’s left the rest of the band at home. On Summer 08 Metronomy have stripped the layers back to such a degree that all that’s left is Mount and his keen ear for pop production, but that’s not a bad thing. This time Mount turns his unique brand of indietronica to gaze upon fame, in particular the ‘summer of 2008’, when he first achieved success following the release of Nights Out. From the snarling lyrics of ‘Back Together’ and ‘Old Skool’ (which also features some expert DJ scratching from Mike D) to the pulsating synth chords of the melancholic anthem that is ‘Hang Me Out to Dry’ (alongside Swedish electropop superstar Robyn), going solo has allowed Mount to truly indulge in pure pop exuberance and with great effect. There’s a dark edge to Summer 08 with album highlight ‘Night Owl’ sounding as if it was an off-cut of the Drive soundtrack, yet Mount still manages to imprint his own personality on the record. It’s clear that Summer 08 is the product of one of Britain’s most innovative creators and a biting musical reflection of Mount’s own success in the form of opulent synthpop.

Top Track: ‘Night Owl’

 

 

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25. Childish Gambino – “Awaken, My Love!”

It’s been a busy year for Donald Glover. Not only has he put out one of the most acclaimed TV comedy-dramas of the year in Atlanta but he has also resurrected his musical incarnation, otherwise known as Childish Gambino after a 3-year absence. “Awaken, My Love!” spells a departure away from the hip-hop leanings of Because the Internet in favour of more dynamic and finely produced sound that dabbles in R&B, soul, funk and even psychedelic rock and sees him sing rather than rap. A vibrant sprawl of a record, Glover transports his listener into space via a mele of sonic exploration drifting from the neo-pschdelia of ‘Me and Your Mama’ and its dramatic choirs to the strutting R&B soul of fellow single ‘Redbone’ which sees Glover boast his best falsetto. The prestine production values are immaculate, with the gospel-jam of ‘Boogieman’ sitting comfortably next to the retro soul of ‘Zombies’. The album is proof that Glover is a modern day renaissance man and an ever evolving artist, with ‘Awaken, My Love!’ standing up as his best work to date.

Top Track: ‘Me and Your Mama’

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24. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – Nonagon Infinity

Nonagon Infinity is truly as insane a record as the name of the band behind it suggests. With each song spilling into the next, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard have created a mind-bending 41minute rollercoaster ride of glorious fuzz and garage rock riffs. Originating from Australia, which at the moment seems to be hotbed of alternative rock artistry, King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard are like the hyperactive, more aggressive younger brother of Tame Imapala. Blasting in with opening track ‘Robot Stop’ King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard’s relentless tempo hardly falters as the thunderous riffs cascade into the riotous ‘Big Fig Wasp’, making for thrilling a listen. Having tried their hand at space jazz and freak folk, it is this frantic brand of psychedelic-garage metal that suits them best, a sound that they first really broke through with on 2014’s I’m in Your Mind Fuzz. Nonagon Infinity is a restless sonic ball of energy that blasts through complex time signatures, emphatic drum solos, frenzied harmonica shrills and endless loops for a ramshackle ride that refuses to give into convention. Absurdist fun.

Top Track: ‘Gamma Knife’

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23. Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth

I can’t say I’m a massive listener of country music. Sturgill Simpson however, is the exception. An audacious alternative country record, A Sailor’s Guide to Earth isn’t your average country singer, with the record testing Simpson’s supposed ‘future of Nashville’ title but instead as a thought-provoking and progressive artist in his own right. Something that was exemplified in the album’s first track ‘Welcome to Earth (Pollywog), a song that begins with atmospheric strings (something which recurs across the album) before bursting into a bombastic soul anthem, complete with a full brass section, a statement of things to come. Perhaps the most striking of the album’s nine carefully crafted songs was his cover of grunge titans, Nirvana’s ‘In Bloom’ from the seminal Nevermind, of which he transforms into a slow-burn country ballad, which actually works! A Sailor’s Guide to Earth was one of the unexpected gems of 2016, full of unforeseen deviations that has made me totally reassess my stance on country music.

Top Track: ‘Welcome to Earth (Pollywog)’

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22. Jenny Hval – Blood Bitch

Blood Bitch is one of the strangest records I’ve heard this year, yet one I keep going back to. In all honesty I hadn’t heard of Norwegian avant-garde pioneer Jenny Hval, until I sat down with my fellow music editors at Exeposé to compile our end of year list and Blood Bitch got thrown out. A shifting experimental pop album built around the loosely connected themes of menstruation (‘Untamed Region’), desire (‘The Great Undressing’) and vampires (‘Female Vampire’), Blood Bitch is an enthralling listen, as its delicate harmony echo throwing opening tracks ‘Ritual Awakening’ and ‘Female Vampire’ before the bewildered gasps of the chillingly atmospheric ‘In the Red’. It’s a rather quiet record for its choice of subject matter and provocative lyrics, often working on a bed of ambient synths, which make for an interesting juxtaposition. A unique vision Blood Bitch is a thought-provoking listen which plays out almost like a film score, with Hval creating an album of subtle oddities which takes pleasure in whispering them in your ear.

Top Track: ‘Conceptual Romance’

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21. Big Thief – Masterpiece

Another standout debut of 2016 comes in the form of Brooklyn based indie-folk outfit Big Thief’s Masterpiece. Floating very firmly under the radar the lo-fi stylings of Masterpiece fuses indie rock sensibilities with elements of folk, Americana and country. Big Thief have managed to craft an album of bedroom anthems, with Adrianne Lenker’s brutally honest vocals telling tales of love and devastation. Whilst the more classic indie rock numbers such as title track ‘Masterpiece’ with its messy guitar solo and the reverb riffs of ‘Real Love’ impress it’s the introspective softer moments (‘Paul’), which give the greatest insight into the psyche Lenker as she paints pictures of young love with her interesting turns of phrase. There’s a definite charm to Big Thief and their lo-fi indie folk-rock, with certain honesty to their scrapbook style of songwriting. An understated album that deserves greater recognition, particularly for Lenker’s sheer talent as a lyricist.

Top Track: ‘Masterpiece’

Album of the Year (40-31)

Part 2 of my slightly self-indulgent Album of the Year countdown.

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40. Explosions in the Sky – The Wilderness

Texan post-rockers Explosions in the Sky have been producing their elaborate and expansive soundscapes for over 16 years, however The Wilderness stands out as possibly their best work. Opening with the stuttering synths of ‘Wilderness’, Explosions in the Sky do what they do best in building up tension to some extraordinary cinematic crescendos. However with The Wilderness the band have avoided much of the predictability that has plagued their albums since 2003’s The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place. Whilst there are the euphoric highs that are as expected, they come as momentary peaks and often change direct unexpectedly such as on ‘Logic Dream’ which traverses from feelings of wonder to a foreboding dread and back again. The band pull together a number of musical strands with such ease and finesse it’s no wonder they’ve spent the last few years cutting their teeth producing film soundtracks, with standout track ‘Disintegration Anxiety’ acting as the exemplification of their ability to meld together sounds in such anthemic fashion. With The Wilderness Explosions in the Sky have truly created a rich tapestry of sound, an immersive listen.

Top Track: ‘Disintegration Anxiety’

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39. Imarhan – Imarhan

One of the most out their picks who caught my imagination after I heard them on BBC 6 Music late one night were southern Algerian desert rockers Imarhan. A bustling self-titled debut album Imarhan stay true to their traditional musical culture whilst still utilising the modernity of western instruments such as electric guitars and synths to weave an intricate sonic patchwork of a record. In fact Imarhan is at its best when these two cultures intertwine to thrilling effect, particularly on standout track Tahabort which possess a high tempo funky groove. A band of truly skillful musicians, some of the technical fretwork is nothing short of exceptional on the quieter, more traditional ‘Id Isleigh’ and mesmeric ‘Idarchan Net’. As an album Imarhan takes up a range of emotional moods, racing between reflective harmonies and upbeat, ramshackle jams. Whilst there are many nods to western rock n’ roll in terms of the layering and even on ‘Assossamagh’ their use of guitar effects, its their use of traditional African instrumentation, rhythms and vocal delivery that gives Imarhan such a unique and refreshing sound.

Top Track: ‘Tahabort’

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38. Wilco – Schmilco

Wilco’s second album in as many years (their 10th ever) sees them depart from the grungy, fuzzy rock guitars of Star Wars in favour of a more country/folk-tinged sound. Schmilco, who’s title is a reference to the Harry Nilsson album Schmilson, takes a far more mellow approach as it softly meanders through more retrospective themes of love (‘We aren’t the World [Safety Girl]’), loss (‘Shrug and Destroy’) and frustration (‘Normal American Kids’). Schmilco strips back the layers to such an extent that it is almost entirely acoustic, with only the odd emergence of piano and electric guitar on tracks like the experimental ‘Common Sense’ and grief-stricken ‘Nope’, creating a melancholic ambiance that carries through the record. Whilst it is on the whole a fairly low-key affair, with Schmilco Wilco have shown their ability to turn their hand to different styles whilst still keeping it intelligent and interesting. A subtle and intimate record, that is up there with the year’s best.

Top Track: ‘Normal American Kids’

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37. Porches – Pool

It was only at the point of writing that at this stage I realized I’d forgotten Porches’ Pool, an interesting synthpop album and brainchild of New York electronic musician Aaron Maine. Maine has on his latest record moved away from the hazy indie rock of previous album Slow Dance in the Cosmos in favour of a unique brand of bedroom electronica (with the album being recorded literally in Maine’s New York apartment). A swimming pool of ice-cold synths and delicate melodies and harmonies (of which also features Maine’s girlfriend Great Kline on backing vocals, who’s alter-ego Frankie Cosmos features later on in this list), Pool replaces the electric guitars of old for worbling keys and precise electronic beats. A newfound pop sheen makes Pool seem like a somewhat insular and cold album, tracks like ‘Be Apart’ evoking scenes of lonely nights in the city and ‘Braid’ acting as the perfect soundtrack to a Hipster house party. This is a record that sucks you in and proves Maine as one of the most exciting talents of the indie scene.

Top Track: ‘Be Apart’

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36. D .D Dumbo – Utopia Defeated

Another product of the oh so exceptional 4AD label, D .D Dumbo may not be as well known as label mates Grimes, Future Islands or The National, however under the radar the Australian song-writer Oliver Hugh Perry has dropped one of the best albums of the year. An interesting and sprawling soundscape, Utopia Defeated flirts with numerous . A quirky indie-pop extravaganza amongst a sea of the unoriginal and bland. With lyrics exploring a subject matter as strange and diverse as walruses, UFOs and devil worship, Utopia Defeated is very much an archaic experimental pop album, delivered with a clean sheen and decorated instrumentation. Dumbo uses a wealth of scattered sounds to create the record, whether it’s the galloping rhythms of ‘Satan’ or the eclectic mix of electronic guitar, panpipes and horns of ‘Brother’ each track is delivered in such stylish and intricate manor. A cosmic thrill of a record.

Top Track: ‘Walrus’

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35. Nicolas Jaar – Sirens

It was a long five year wait for the young electronic pioneer Nicolar Jaar’s follow up to the critically acclaimed Space is Only Noise (he was only 21 when it was released), but it sure didn’t disappoint. The Chilean-American composer returned last September with a fascinating record that flits between atmospheric loops and industrial beats and never ceases to surprise. The gargantuan opening track ‘ Killing Time’ lures you in with its calming chimes, tranquil piano riffs and later bleeping synth layers, before exploding into the distorted chaos of ‘The Governor’. The album has an over-riding political message, with Jaar juxtaposing the doo-wopping melodies with arresting lyrics on final tarck ‘History Lesson’ before transitioning into an archaic dénouement. An assault on the senses there is really too much to describe in a measly 200 word review other than for me to recommend you to give it a listen. It’s amazing how that in just six tracks, Jaar manages to create a tangled spider-web of sounds, an experimental masterpiece and the work of a great artist.

Top Track: ‘Killing Time’

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34. Laura Mvula – The Dreaming Room

Birmingham soul singer, Laura Mvula’s Mercury Prize nominated second album The Dreaming Room is well worth its place on the list. An off-kilter orchestral pop album, Laura Mvula has delicately crafted a musical representation of her idiosyncratic ideas, with ventures into soul, pop set to a backdrop off soft strings and stirring syths. The Dreaming Room is a versatile album that shifts from the angelic ‘Bread’ that bares the beauty of her voice to the retro soul of ‘Lucky Man’ that shows the true strength and power of her vocal ability, whilst the poignant and powerful ‘People’ showcases her talent for lyrics. Mvula utilises her impeccable ear for melody alongside her own invention to create an album where each song is radically different from the next and truly original. Mvula is very much a musical chameleon, prepared to go wherever her imagination will take her and ridding herself of the shackles of what is expected of pop music.

Top Track: ‘Bread’

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33. Mitski – Puberty 2

Mitski is another artist that I was largely unfamiliar with before Puberty 2 in spite of her releasing a large body of work (four albums) in such a short space of time since 2012. A witty and confrontationally honest record, Puberty 2 mixes the loud and quiet grunge dynamics, with confessional folk lyrics whilst also throwing in a splash of brass and other oddities that make it such an original record. Gorging on her own emotional pain New Yorker Mitski Miyawaki has produced an album bleak in content but powerful in musical delivery as she grapples with the troubles of young adulthood to a score of distorted folk. Tracks range from the insular nature of ‘Happy’ and ‘Once More to See You’ and the bordering on classic rock bombast of ‘Your Best American Girl’, creating an indecisive aura that lives up to its title.

Top Track: ‘Your Best American Girl’

 

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32. John K Samson – Winter Wheat

This was an album that had really escaped my knowledge until I interviewed Frank Turner last November and he picked it out as his album of the year. I was familiar with Samson’s work as lead vocalist and guitarist for Canadian indie rock band The Weakerthans but knew very little about his solo output. Samson’s third album Winter Wheat is his first since The Weakerthans’ hiatus, and is a showcase of everything that is great about Samson as a song-writer and musician. An intimate folk record that explores a number of narratives and perspectives, blurring a sense of triumphalism with melancholy to great effect. From the personal rambles of ‘Winter Wheat’ to the political muse of ‘Capital’, Samson flexes his lyrical muscles with a dusting of dry wit. This is folk music at its most bare and most effective, where the quiet guitar chords and occasional accordion are used as the vehicle for Samson’s pained and reflective lyrics.

Top Track: ‘Select All Delete’

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31. Parquet Courts – Human Performance

Parquet Courts are another band who have been ridiculously prolific in their short timespan together, with 2016’s Human Performance marking their sixth album in five years. Lead vocalist Andrew Savage even likened the recording process of Human Performance to that of The Beatles’ White Album, another band that were inexhaustible in their output. However the two bands couldn’t sound anymore different, and that’s not a bad thing (who’d want a second Beatles anyway? We’ve already had an attempt at that with Oasis). Human Performance is a dusty 46 minute jolt of gloriously messy art-punk complete with intelligent wordplay and an intriguing exploration of everyday life and the mudane (such as the closing of their favourite Chinese restaurant on ‘I Was Just Here’ and sweeping up dust on the aptly titled ‘Dust’). On this record Parquet Courts have put together possibly their best collection of songs yet whilst still maintaining that DIY ethos that gives them their cutting edge.

Top Track: ‘Dust’

Album of the Year (50-41)

It’s fair to say I’ve somewhat neglected my blog for the past year, so over the Christmas holiday and seeing as 2016 has now come to an end I thought that I ought to reflect on the previous year’s musical output and put together a list of my own personal top 50 albums of the year (seeing as very few publications put out a list I agreed with). This is also probably the stage that I should point out that there’s a lack of rap albums on the list (although I’ve included a fair number there are a few glaring omissions in the form of Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book and Danny Brown’s Atrocity Exhibition, two albums I’ve heard great things about but am yet to listen to), a genre I’m beginning to educate myself more on, however I like to think there’s still a fairly eclectic range of genres (hip-hop, punk, blues, soul, indie rock, avant-garde pop and world music to name a few). Nevertheless here’s the first ten of the countdown!

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50. The Rolling Stones – Blue & Lonesome

Who’d have thought that 2016 would have seen a Rolling Stones release? In fact, what’s probably more surprising is that with all the 2016 celebrity deaths Keith Richards is still alive and kicking. Perhaps it’s the youthful vigor of Blue & Lonesome that has injected a new lease of life into the veins of the veteran rockers. After years of experimentation and rock n’ roll trailblazing, the Stones’ latest record sees them go back to their rhythm and blues roots with an album of covers, as they recreate legendary blues classics from the likes of Buddy Johnson and Howlin’ Wolf. Jagger’s voice hasn’t sounded so fresh in years, with Richard’s guitar licks and bluesy harmonica melodies rolling back the years in simplistic yet stylish fashion. Without a gospel choir in sight, The Rolling Stones have cut out the frills and thrills and set out to make an album Jagger, Richards and Co. wanted to make rather than one that they felt they had to make. Emblazoned with the iconic lips logo, Blue & Lonesome couldn’t be more classic Stones if it tried, and more importantly is the sound of a band having fun.

Top Track: ‘Just Your Fool’

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49. Hinds – Leave Me Alone

It can be difficult for international bands to truly make it in such a congested music scene over here in the UK, however this ramshackle gang of girls from Madrid have managed exactly that with their debut Leave Me Alone. In fact, the Spanish garage rock quartet’s debut has caught imaginations on both sides of the Atlantic as the band channels a cross between the loud and soft structures of the Pixies and the slacker mentality of Mac Demarco. Hinds’ style of scrappy garage rock has a distinct plucky energy and air of nostalgia to it, something that is reflected in the band’s origin story as a group of girls that only recently started to learn their craft, pushed on by their desire to purely ‘be in a band’ and make ‘rock n’ roll music’. Whilst it would be easy to pick up on their often overly-simplistic chord progressions and song structures, it’s clear that what they lack in technical skill they more than make up for in head-strong desire! There’s a baggy jangle to tracks like ‘Davey Crockett’ and ‘Garden’ and an uplifting appeal to their unsubtle, heart-on-sleeve lyrics, the kind that are tailored made to be screamed by adoring fans in festival fields. Simple, yet effective.

Top Track: ‘Garden’

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48. Glass Animals – How to Be a Human Being

A band’s sophomore album is well documented as being the hardest to create, particularly when the debut is wildly popular, as is the case for Oxford innovators Glass Animals’ ZABA, an album that saw them garner considerable critical and commercial acclaim with their outlandish brand of math-pop that has more twists and turns than a circuit of Silverstone. How to Be a Human Being sees the band dabble in world music, in particular afrobeat with a welcome splash of tropical house and a hint of indie rock for good measure. There isn’t really a name for this interesting concoction, so most settled on math pop, a term that also been set upon other British pacesetters including the likes of Alt-J and Wild Beasts. Glass Animals went big on scope with How to Be a Human Being, an interesting concept album that focuses on a series of characters of whom the band have met on their travels, showcasing principal songwriter Dave Bayley’s intense eye for detail. The record is glued together with intelligent pop hooks and big tunes, particularly seen on lead singles ‘Life Itself’ and ‘Youth’. Smart pop acts don’t come round very often and Glass Animals are definitely flying the flag as one of the best the UK has to offer.

Top Track: ‘Youth’

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47. Margaret Glaspy – Emotions and Math

Clocking in at just 34 minutes, Margaret Glaspy’s debut album, Emotions and Math, is probably one of the shortest on this list, but that doesn’t detract from its merits. Glaspy has crafted a collage of short, sharp character studies set to a shifting backdrop of biting grunge rock (‘You and I’), reflective folk (‘Antony’) and even melodic soul (‘No Matter Who’). Whilst her voice often takes centre stage, and rightly so, with a soulful, delicate and intriguing vocal delivery, there is also an innate and necessary aggression and messiness to Emotions and Math that gives it an added bite. With the lyrical grit of tracks like to ‘You and I’ to the sloppy guitar solos on ‘Memory Street’, Glaspy has made a record that is far more than it first appears. Lyrically Emotions and Math has enough intrigue to prompt repeat listens, as Glaspy flicks between self-examination (‘You Don’t Want Me’) and adopting interesting perspectives (‘Parental Guidance’). In a year when singer-songwriters have been leading the way for musical innovation, Margaret Glaspy is up there as one of the most exciting to emerge on the scene and definitely one to keep an eye on.

Top Track: ‘Emotions and Math’

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46. Blossoms – Blossoms

2016 has undoubtedly been a big year for Blossoms. As well as dropping their positively received first album (which went onto become the highest selling debut this year in the UK), the Stockport lads have also reached newfound levels of commercial success that will see them headline Manchester’s Castlefield bowl this summer in a huge outdoor show. Whilst their self-titled debut hardly reinvents the wheel, treading a narrow tightrope between 90s indie rock and 80s synth-pop, Blossoms reels you in with its soaring choruses (‘Getaway’) and catchy hooks (‘Charlemagne’, arguably one of the catchiest pop tracks of the year). Is this a band that is going to change music? Certainly not. But that’s not the point of Blossoms! This is a band that craves the mass sing-alongs. They are not afraid of the ‘radio-friendly’ tag (that has been placed upon their heads by many as a means of criticism) and are a band all about the big tunes that lead vocalist Tom Ogden can strut along to as he prowls the stage. Blossoms are great at what they do, which in this case is pure unadulterated indie pop fun (with a light hint of psychedelia)!

Top Track: ‘Charlemagne’

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45. Dinosaur Jr. – Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not

Dinosaur Jr. have been stalwarts of the US alternative rock scene for such a long-time now it’s a wonder how they have been able to maintain such a consistent level of output. Formed in 1984, Dinosaur Jr. have done it all; name changes, line-up alterations, eight year hiatuses and yet always come back strong. Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not plays out like a classic Dinosaur Jr. album yet still remains vital with its immediate hooky, fuzzy guitar, ear-splitting solos and melodic vocals, something demonstrated by lead single ‘Tiny’. In amongst the fuzz and sludge of the hard rocking ‘Goin Down’ and ‘I Walk For Miles’, there are also more melancholic moments such as the softer ‘Be A Part’ and the retrospective charm of the opening half of ‘Knocked Around’. Although going back to basics, Give a Glimpse of What Yer Not proves that there is life yet in these dinsouars.

Top Track: ‘Tiny’

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44. Preoccupations – Preoccupations

Whilst Preoccupations is a fairly bland name in comparison to Viet Cong (a name they were forced to change after it unsurprisingly evoked controversy), their music is anything but. After the Canadian post-punk’s first self-titled debut (under the Viet Cong alias) saw them cement their status as a leading light in modern guitar music, Preoccupations is more of a slow-burner. The band’s sophomore album is bursting with fragmented emotions, something reflected by the band’s choice of song titles, with a series of one word tracks like; ‘Anxiety’, ‘Monotony’ and ‘Stimulation’. However it’s ‘Memory’ in particular that stands out as the mid-album highlight, a sprawling, towering track that comes in at over 11 minutes and creates a suffocating, industrial atmosphere with its droning soundscape and Matt Flegel’s growling vocals (which are somewhat reminiscent of New York post-punks Interpol). Preoccupations marks a shift towards Joy Division-esque territory and a richer musical pallet with shimmering synths, dirty bass guitar and screeching keys helping to create an immersive concoction of sound.

Top Track: ‘Memory’

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43. Yak – Alas Salvation

Alas Salvation is a dirty mess of an album. Complete with savage garage rock guitars, sludging bass and distorted vocals, Yak have crafted a raucous debut album that sounds archaic yet original. Yak built their reputation on their frenetic live shows, which also saw them take up supporting slots for the likes of The Last Shadow Puppets. Former Pulp bassist Steve Mackey’s (also behind the likes of Florence + the Machine and Palma Violets), production expertly translates Yak’s terrifyingly exhilarating live sound onto record, whilst still maintaining its pure dynamism and thundering sound. At a time when British guitar music appears to be at an all-time lull, Yak have strutted onto the scene and demanded your attention. Whilst arguably not the greatest innovators, there’s a fresh resilience about tracks like ‘Victorious (National Anthem)’ and ‘Harbour the Feeling’ as they generate a rowdy sense of excitement that exhibits the energy of an early Stooges and the crunching guitars of the Sex Pistols. If you like your guitars dirty then I urge you to listen Alas Salvation, one of 2016’s forgotten gems.

Top Track: ‘Victorious (National Anthem)’

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42. Blood Orange – Freetown Sound

Dev Hynes has taken up many forms in his musical career. Having put out two successful albums in the indie rock guise of Lightspeed Champion and written for artists including the likes of; Florence + the Machine, Solange Knowles, Sky Ferreira and The Chemical Brothers, Hynes’ most successful (both critically and commercially) project has been that of Blood Orange. On his third album, Freetown Sound, Hynes flirts with funk, synthpop, baroque pop and alternative R&B in a melting pot of ideas that mixes expert production with intelligent and progressive song-writing. As has been the case with a lot of albums in 2016, Freetown Sound also takes a distinctive political stance, tackling important issues such as racism, sexism and more personal areas of individuality through the avenues of pop music. A masterful record and arguably Hynes’ best yet.

Top Track: ‘Best To You’

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41. Slaves – Take Control

Following up their hugely popular debut (Are you Satisfied) was always going to be a challenge for Slaves. Their fresh outlook on the tried and tested punk formula saw them win legions of fans as they mixed a knowing sense of self-parody with a raucous punk guitar and thunderingly simplistic drumming. Take Control however sees the band go in a newer, less retro direction as they start to take themselves more seriously and attempt to blend elements of hip hop with hardcore punk. But is that a move that will work? With legendary Beastie Boy, Mike D at the helm, there’s a slicker production aesthetic to the record and whilst not quite capturing the cathartic youth of their debut effort, its throws a more mature shadow with tracks like ‘Steer Cleer’ and ‘Cold Hard Floor’ grappling with more interesting themes and this unsteady period for Britain. However, the punk silliness does still persist with the 45 second thrash of ‘Fuck the Hi-Hat’ and the lyrical banility of ‘People that you Meet’. Whilst Take Control has had its critics and doesn’t quite posses the witty, self-depreciating charm of the band’s Mercury Prize nominated debut, it still has it’s merits and warrants further listens.

Top Track: ‘Spit it Out’

Spectre Review: Bond is Back

This week saw the return of the British Film Industry’s greatest export, the James Bond franchise, with Daniel Craig again picking up the mantle for his fourth stint as the 00 agent. This time, Spectre see’s Bond going rogue and matching up against the mysterious Spectre organisation, headed by Christoph Waltz’s Franz Oberhauser. Carrying on from the magnificent Casino Royale, much loved Skyfall and less talked about Quantum of Solace, hopes were high for the latest instalment in the franchise as they always are, and with critically acclaimed auteur Sam Mendes again behind the camera, it seemed that this was sure to be a success. And to some extent it is, containing pretty much everything you would want from a classic Bond movie, from the epic orchestral theme from Sam Smith to Bond’s sleek Aston Martin DB10. However, for me there is something just missing. Before I continue I most issue a SPOILER WARNING, as I do mention a few of the film’s biggest scenes, so do come back when you’ve seen the film!

Whilst it is as stylish, and intelligent in a way we’ve come to expect for a Bond film, it does seem rather 007 by numbers, and a little less gritty compared to Craig’s other films, with winking glances back at the Bond films of old. With a lot of the references more akin to Rodger Moore’s incarnation of the infamous spy, such as when Bond jumped off a collapsing building and landed on a conveniently placed sofa and the zinging one liners, giving Craig’s Bond a new tongue in cheek dimension. Other more nostalgic aspects that were introduced in Spectre included; the return of the silent henchman (in this case Dave Bautista’s Mr Hinx), the big twist that Christoph Waltz’s character was in fact James Bond’s most infamous villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld (I think we all saw that coming…) and a lot more ‘why doesn’t he just kill Bond’ moments, such as Blofeld’s attempt to torture and wipe Bond’s memory when he had him captured in his lair. Whilst in many cases this did work well and got laughs from the audience, it does distract from the usual high-octane, gritty image cast by Craig’s 007 and that made him more suiting to the 21st century in a way similar to Jason Bourne than the antics of Austin Powers.

Spectre most certainly boasts a high calibre cast, with Craig putting in a traditionally physical performance as every ones favourite spy. Whilst Ben Whishaw’s Q threatened to steal the show, providing great comic relief in his more substantial role compared to previous films. Ralph Fiennes’ performance as M, taking over from the legendary Dame Judi Dench was well crafted as he battled with the equally spectacular Andrew Scott’s (Moriaty from the popular Sherlock) C for control of the British Intelligence agency. Disappointing, however, was the fact that Moneypenny, played by Naomie Harris (who was so great in Skyfall) was demoted to a pretty much cameo role in Spectre. Furthermore, the big hype surrounding Monica Belluci’s role as Lucia Sciarra fell flat, as the promise of a Bond girl who was more suiting to his actual age (with the Italian actress aged 51 to Daniel Craig’s 47) was limited to a mere 5 minutes screen time, despite being one of the film’s most interesting characters as the widow of an assassin killed by Bond. Instead Lea Sedoux’s Dr Swann was the lead bond girl, a character of whom, despite Seydoux’s strong portrayal, seemed far too young for Bond. Another character that I was largely underwhelmed with was Christoph Waltz’s Blofeld! With an actor so talented (just think of his two oscar winning performances in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained) playing a Bond villain so iconic, his cartoonish evil super villain portrayal was rather a let down. Hoping for something more akin to Heath Ledger’s evil depiction of The Joker, Bond’s greatest nemesis had limited air time and never really got to show the true extent of his wicked ways.

My biggest hope is that this is not the end of this current Bond story arc, as there is so much more that can still come from these characters, particularly Waltz’s Blofeld. Whilst the film ended in a way that could very much see the end for Craig’s Bond, I believe is important for him to stay for at least one more film, to properly end in the series of films in a way it deserves and tie it all together nicely. After all Craig does still have one more film left in his contract so it would be a surprise to see him leave now, especially with the undoubted millions that this film will make.

Where the writing in this film may not have been the strongest, you can not argue with the quality of Sam Mendes’ direction. A man originally of the theatre, who proved his film directing mettle with dramas including American Beauty (of which he won the Best Director Academy Award for), Jarhead and Revolutionary Road, once agin takes up the helm for Spectre following the monumental success of Skyfall.  Again Mendes has proven that he knows his way around panting a beuatiful Bond film, taking in the luscious mountains of Austria, the urban city scapes of Rome and London and the anarchic Day of the Dead festival in Mexico City. The latter of which makes for one of the most exhilarating opening sequences of any Bond film, shot by Mendes as one extended tracking shot, which is in itself a piece of cinematic brilliance. With helicopter’s flying upside down above Mexico City, car chases through Rome and an exasperating final set piece in the MI6 Headquarters in London, you can only feel that if the story was there, this could’ve been an all time great Bond film, it was just missing those final few pieces.

Don’t get me wrong Spectre is a good, thoroughly enjoyable, in some ways classic James Bond film, it’s just not up to the high quality standards that Daniel Craig and Sam Mendes have set for the MI6 agent. In Spectre it has seemed to have lost that gritty edge that we’ve become accustomed to with this portrayal of James Bond. Fans of the series will love this ode to the Bond films of old, however to the casual viewer it will not have the lasting legacy of Skyfall or Casino Royale. Where those respective films saw the death of huge characters in M (Judi Dench) and Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), giving the films that extended emotional depth and challenging Bond, Spectre’s ending seems a bit too hollow and jovial. With Bond walking off with his far too young love interest and the villain neatly captured, it doesn’t quite satisfy an audience that are used to that powerful sucker punch of an end. Spectre stands for me as a good but not quite great edition to the 007 canon. I only hope for more to come!

Rating: 3 Stars