2016 was a funny kind of year, eh? Apparently Charlie Brooker is struggling to condense it all into a 60 minute program for his yearly Wipe . On the plus side, lots of excellent music was made, so here are ten of my favourite tracks from this year and, because music should be personal, why I like them too.
1.Where U Are – Rina Sawayama
I’ve come to appreciate in the last year or two the art of cheesy pop production, hence why my Spotify most-listened list is full of Carly Rae Jepsen, Madonna and even, God forbid, Jennifer Paige. From listening to the absolute banger that is “Where U Are”, I have a sneaky feeling that Rina Sawayama feels the same way. This track is full of lush synths, 80’s style super processed guitar leads and all kinds of other throwbacks. Lyrically, Sawayama approaches loneliness from the perspective of somebody waiting to hear back from their crush, feeling hopelessly in love despite only ever speaking online. All of this evokes a 90’s teen-drama cliché that takes on new relatability in a time when we communicate more and more through screens, and intimacy in relationships becomes untethered from physical distance, for better and for worse.
2. Xenia Rubinos – Lonely Lover
It’s always a joy to see an artist that you love take their music to a new level. Last year that artist to me was Grimes, who ripped up Lady Gaga’s school of pop and stuck it back together in her own idiom with Art Angels, and this year that artist was Xenia Rubinos, whose last album Magic Trix was a raw statement, with distorted keys, beefy polyrhythmic drums and Rubinos’ voice straining to keep up with the sheer emotion with which she sings every word. Black Terry Cat is this year’s release, and it’s altogether a more polished affair, but no less bursting with Rubinos’ personality and confessional lyrics. Rubinos is lyrically more focussed on this record; more of the songs deal with the experiences of people of colour in Rubinos’ native USA, but she still writes from a personal perspective, as on “Lonely Lover”: a song about a single mother who is emotionally manipulated by her ex, and after a horrendous day of dealing with her kids and drinking the last of her money she finds that she has to just take a breath and love herself first. In the sunset days of the general disaster that has been 2016, I find myself, and a lot people who I speak to, feeling like there’s an a little extra weight on my shoulders, and this song reminds me that sometimes you have to take time to care for yourself if you want to be ready to care for others.
3. Take It Easy (Ever After Lasting Love) – White Denim
White Denim are easily one of my favourite bands of all time. I can’t deny that I think that they haven’t hit the excellence of Corsicana Lemonade since two of their members left to work with Leon Bridges, but 2016’s Stiff is still a great record, and now that James Petralli and Co. have a solidified lineup again I can’t help but feel that they’re only going to get better. When I saw them in Glasgow earlier this year, the bulk of the set was a shadow of White Denim’s former glory, but when the band pulled back to let Petralli lead on “Take It Easy (Ever After Lasting Love)”, the feeling in the crowd was really something special.
4. Robot Stop – King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard
This isn’t even my favourite track from the album, but since each track on Nonagon Infinity bleeds into the next, you won’t be able to stop yourself from listening to the whole thing. This album is like having the wildest party you’ve ever been to piped directly into your ears. It’s brilliant.
5. I’m Still Here – Sharon Jones
For a lot of music lovers 2016 was the year that David Bowie died. For me, it was the year that Sharon Jones died. A lot of great memories are tied up in her music: soothing some of my first hangovers with her tunes on the way home from Dundee after a night out, listening to her with my partner on the porch of our tiny rented bungalow on a Thai island. I even got close to seeing her live when I went to Wilderness festival in 2012, and I’ll regret missing that set forever. This year saw the release of Miss Sharon Jones!, a documentary about her life: going from being a prison guard to starting a professional music career in her forties, to filling concert halls with her band The Dap Kings. The film was accompanied by an excellent soundtrack, encompassing songs from throughout her recording career, as well as a new track, “I’m Still Here”, recorded especially for the film. “I’m Still Here” was both a celebration of Sharon’s life and a last howl against the cancer which eventually killed her at 60 years old. Rest in peace, Sharon.
6. If You Want Me Now – Happy Meals
Glasgow’s Happy Meals are really weird, in a good way. Their SAY-nominated Apero EP is a brilliant piece of faux euro disco, and now with Fruit Juice they’ve cranked up a new psychedelic weirdness but kept the jams that made Apero so irresistible. “If You Want Me Now” is the kind of jam that you could dance to all night, whether in a dingy club or in your pal’s living room.
7. Gone Clear – William Tyler
Since my job at Red Dog is mostly behind a desk, I sometimes like to listen to podcasts and interviews with producers and musicians while I work. I’m a big fan of Pensado’s Place (the Sylvia Massy and Andrew Scheps interviews are both really good) and Reverb’s Tips videos. I recently discovered Nashville’s William Tyler when he did this great video for Reverb on using loopers to compose and improvise on electric guitar. I loved it because he was doing something that I have been working on for years in my own playing, although he is much much better at it than me! I checked out his new album Modern Country, which is totally brilliant. “Gone Clear” features on Modern Country and is, like all of Tyler’s work, instrumental and very successfully manages to align country’s melodic sensibility with Steve Reich style minimalism in a cinematic piece.
8. It’s Time – Nick Waterhouse
I had the pleasure of opening for rhythm and blues genius Nick Waterhouse about a year ago when he was touring his album Holly, and he and his band blew the roof off of Edinburgh’s Electric Circus. Nick has a serious talent for catchy choruses and hooks, and “It’s Time” from his 2016 album Never Twice is constantly stuck in my head, months after I first heard it.
9. Beni Said – 75 Dollar Bill
I was introduced to 75 Dollar Bill by Tabs Out, a podcast about cassette tapes. I wrote my uni dissertation last year about compact cassettes, and in the process discovered an entire world of weirdo music and noise art to jump into. The majority of cassette labels and artists sell their music and tapes through Bandcamp, and I highly recommend getting your feet wet in buying music on there. Most of the revenue goes directly to the artist, and a lot of them will send you extra little goodies just for supporting musicians who are taking control of their music from start to finish. 75 Dollar Bill are a pair of cool dudes from New York who, in the time off from their jobs in law and healthcare, make raw, psychedelic music which is as informed by the 1970’s in Soweto or Bangkok as it by 1960’s San Francisco. “Beni Said”, from WOOD/METAL/PLASTIC/PATTERN/RHYTHM/ROCK adds a sax section for a catchy riff that reminds me of early King Crimson.
10. Shut Eye – CHUMP
CHUMP are another great Scottish band who I found through Glasgow’s excellent DIY punk label Fuzzkill Records. CHUMP contributed an excellent cover of Sade’s “Ordinary Love” to a Fuzzkill charity compilation, and I was completely obsessed with them in no time. CHUMP released their Treat Me Mean EP on cassette and digital earlier this year, and if you like your music grungy, moody and loaded with reverb then you might well like it too.
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