It's my first post of the new year and, though late to the game, I wanted to share my favourite music from last year. 2016 was a notoriously terrible year (not that this year is exactly peachy so far!), but thankfully the same can't be said of the music that came out last year. It was, to quote Lisa Simpson's insensitive future fiancé, like a flower that grew out of a pot of dirt. I feel spoiled by the amount and variety of quality music I've been enjoying from last year's offerings. There are the gorgeous vintage European pop sounds of The Yearning and Lia Pamina, the visionary retrofuturism of Adrian Younge, the moving, classic songwriting of Big Smoke, the raw garage rock of The Mystery Lights, some fresh takes on dream pop, and many outings in psychedelic-influenced, experimental pop. Some of these albums have quickly become all-time favourites, not just favourites of the year. Below is a playlist of songs from my most-loved releases of 2016, including albums, singles and EPs, in no particular order. A list of my top eleven albums (I could not narrow it down to ten!) of the year – again, in no specific order – follows it.
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- Britta Phillips - Daydream (Luck Or Magic)
- Big Smoke - Honey, I (Time Is Golden)
- Margo Price - Hands Of Time (Midwest Farmer's Daughter)
- Kadhja Bonet - Fairweather Friend (The Visitor)
- The Yearning - When I Lost You (Evening Souvenirs)
- Le Super Homard - Maple Key (Maple Key)
- Gloria - Show Me Your Trail (Gloria In Excelsis Stereo)
- Lake Ruth - Helium (Actual Entity)
- Adrian Younge Presents Venice Dawn - Ready To Love (Something About April II)
- Hope Sandoval & The Warm Inventions - A Wonderful Seed (Until The Hunter)
- Julia Jacklin - Pool Party (Don't Let The Kids Win)
Name your price download.
- Beverly - Victoria (The Blue Swell)
- Nice As Fuck - Door (Nice As Fuck)
- The Limiñanas - Dahlia Rouge (Malamore)
- The Mystery Lights - Follow Me Home (The Mystery Lights)
- Gaye Su Akyol - Eski tüfek (Hologram İmparatorluğu)
- La Femme - Le vide est ton nouveau prénom (Mystère)
- Lia Pamina - Créeme (Love Is Enough)
- Cat's Eyes - Everything Moves Towards the Sun (Treasure House)
- Innerspace Orchestra - One Way Glass (One Way Glass single)
- Whyte Horses - Peach Tree Street (Pop Or Not)
- Charlie Hilton - Pony (Palana)
- Prudence Rees-Lee - Fair Witness (Fair Witness single)
- Olympia - Smoke Signals (Self Talk)
- Juniore - Panique (Panique single)
- September Girls - Quicksand (Age Of Indignation)
- Heron Oblivion - Your Hollows (Heron Oblivion)
- Delphine Dora - Alpha centauri (Le Fruit de mes songes)
- Morgan Delt - Sun Powers (Phase Zero)
- Charles Bradley - Ain't Gonna Give It Up (Changes)
- The Honey Pot - Almost Exactly Beautiful (Inside The Whale)
- Beautify Junkyards - Constant Flux (Other Voices 08 single)
- Lush - Lost Boy (Blind Spot EP)
- Exploded View - Stand Your Ground (Exploded View)
- Bat For Lashes - In God's House (The Bride)
- Adrian Younge presents The Electronique Void - Black Noise (Black Noise)
- TOY - Dream Orchestrator (Clear Shot)
- Jarvis Cocker - Theme From "Likely Stories" (Likely Stories EP)
- The Galaxy Electric - Nightmares (Everything is Light and Sound)
- Jenny Hval - Female Vampire (Blood Bitch)
- Leonard Cohen - Traveling Light (You Want it Darker)
- John Cunningham - I Can Fly (Fell)
- Paul Kelly - Sonnet 73 (Seven Sonnets & A Song)
- The New Lines - Love and Cannibalism (Love and Cannibalism)
- Mild High Club - Homage (Skiptracing)
- COTE - London (London single)
- Samara Lubelski - What's Up Rider (The Gilded Raid)
Top 11 albums:
Like so many, I am angry, confounded, saddened by the state of the world. 2016 just keeps kicking us in the arse. I won't spill any trite words about the power of music in troubled times. I don't even think making ourselves feel better is entirely the point. I'm wary of self-tranquilising to the point of becoming numbed or complacent; we need that sense of horror and anger to foster meaningful action. Anger, I think, is not something to be afraid of if it is not hateful or violent or self-destructive. That said, I'm aware good people need to draw strength from where they can – to be inspired, to experience catharsis, to feel soothed, to preserve their mental health – in order to be effective, to go on, to heal. And that's where music can come in. What I like to turn to runs the gamut from angry and cynical, to inspiring and thought-provoking, to calming and reassuring. Here are a few songs I thought I'd share.
Starting at the angry, cynical end of things, Jarvis Cocker's blunt song 'Running The World' from 2006 pulled no punches in describing exactly who has the power in the world, and is unfortunately truer than ever. The song is an incisive, darkly funny critique of capitalism and politics.
Barry McGuire's classic scathing protest song, 'Eve Of Destruction', perfectly captured the countercultural mood of its day. Written by nineteen-year-old P.F. Sloan, it was a number one hit for McGuire in 1965, and it's hard to imagine anyone spitting out these lyrics of disgust and frustration better than he does in his blistering growl. Many of the lyrics are, obviously, specific to political circumstances of the time, but much of it still resonates and could apply as readily today. Particularly potent is McGuire's delivery of the line about religious hypocrisy: "Hate your next-door neighbour / but don't forget to say grace." Also, message aside, I am a fan of the fact the word 'coagulating' is incorporated into a rhyme.
It's interesting when a work of art's message feels relevant again and you find its meaning becomes clearer than before. I guess I always saw this as a somewhat fatalistic song about impending doom in an age of atomic fear, but now it's hitting me as a rebuke against complacency, against refusing to see potential catastrophe, and against the normalisation of things that should rightly invoke alarm. Sloan saw it as "a love song to and for humanity" and "a prayer" and hoped it would help "open a dialogue", but instead he and McGuire were ousted from the music industry.
"This is a cold war, you better know what you're fighting for" sings Janelle Monáe so powerfully on 'Cold War', from her 2010 Afrofuturist pop masterpiece, The ArchAndroid. The line 'I was made to believe there was something wrong with me' always chokes me up, and now more than ever, too many are afraid of their children growing up to feel like this. Monáe has said of this and other songs of hers: "I try to create songs that are uplifting because this world can drive you insane". 'Cold War', though it faces a sense of pain and injustice head-on, is not a bitter resignation; it ultimately uplifts:
So long, Leonard. Thank you for the achingly beautiful words and music.
A mix for Halloween featuring music from 70s European horror soundtracks, eerie vintage folk-pop, contemporary pop noir and more. Last year, I made a devil-themed mix drawing from a similar range of artists, but where that one was skin-crawlingly creepy, this is more softly unnerving, with undercurrents of romance and sensuality. It makes me vaguely picture an imaginary classic horror film where a beautiful heroine is lured into a haunted forest by an irresistible but diabolical lover. Amid the prettily haunting sounds, there are still some genuinely terrifying moments – Goblin's bloodcurdling 'Sighs', from Suspiria, for example – should this ominous realm start to feel too cosy.
The mix image is Elsa Martinelli in Roger Vadim's 1960 vampire flick, Et mourir de plaisir (aka Blood and Roses).
Tracklist (Show details)
- François De Roubaix - Les Lèvres Rouges (1971)
From the Les Lèvres Rouges (Daughters of Darkness) soundtrack.
- Beautify Junkyards - Longo Amanhã (2015)
From The Beast Shouted Love.
- Ennio Morricone - Astratto IV (1971)
From the Veruschka - poesia di una donna soundtrack.
- Marianne Faithfull - Oh Look Around You (1965)
From her self-titled debut album.
- Daniela Casa - Ignoto (1975)
From Società Malata, reissued on Penny Records in 2013, and again on Dagored this year.
- Death and Vanilla - Shadow and Shape (2015)
- Comus - Bitten (1971)
From First Utterance.
- The Paradise Motel - Bad Light (1996)
From Still Life.
- Broadcast - The Sacred Marriage (2013)
From the soundtrack to Peter Strickland's Berberian Sound Studio.
- Jenny Hval - In the Red (2016)
From Blood Bitch.
- Cat's Eyes - Pavane (2015)
From the soundtrack to another Strickland film, The Duke of Burgundy.
- Françoise Hardy - The Rose (1966)
From Hardy's first English language album, In English.
- Piero Umiliani - Nocturne (1973)
From To-Day's Sound, reissued on Easy Tempo in 1997.
- Ennio Morricone - Metamorfosi (1971)
From the La classe operaia va in paradiso.
- Laurence Vanay - Soleil Rouge (1974)
- Espers - Flowery Noontide (2005)
- Cat's Eyes - Black Madonna (2015)
From The Duke of Burgundy.
- Les Maledictus Sound - Heathcliff Y Cry Your Name (1968)
From Attention (or arguably Les Maledictus Sound - I'm uncertain of the correct title), the only release by this band helmed by Jean-Pierre Massiera.
- Keith Seatman - A Slight of Hand (2013)
- Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan - The False Husband (2006)
From Ballad Of The Broken Seas.
- Jane Weaver - Parade of Blood Red Sorrows (2013)
- Belbury Poly - Pan's Garden (2006)
From The Owl's Map.
- Spirogyra - Old Boot Wine (1973)
From the 2004 compilation Gather In The Mushrooms – The British Acid Folk Underground 1968-1974. Originally from the album Bells, Boots and Shambles.
- Phillip Lambro / Orriel Smith - Hannah Emerges In the Night (1973)
Originally from the Crypt of the Living Dead soundtrack, this was included as a bonus track on the 2011 digital issue of Smith's 1968 single, 'Tiffany Glass' (which was also written by Lambro).
- Still Corners - Demons (2011)
From Creatures of an Hour.
- Acanthus - Sleeping Beauty (Samba Des Vampires) (1971)
From the soundtrack to Jean Rollin's Le Frisson des vampires, released by Finders Keepers Records in 2010.
- Emil Richards - Opal (October) (1966)
From New Sound Element "Stones", reissued by The Omni Recording Corporation in 2012.
- Lake Ruth - One Night As I Lay On My Bed (2016)
From Actual Entity.
- Colleen - Le Labyrinthe (2007)
- Angelo Badalamenti - Laura's Dark Boogie (1990)
From Twin Peaks: Season Two Music and More (2007).
- Maxine Sullivan - Dark Eyes (1938)
From the 1997 compilation The Chronological Classics: Maxine Sullivan 1937-1938.
- Jean Prodromidès - Carmilla et Léopoldo (1960)
From the Et mourir de plaisir (Blood and Roses) soundtrack.
- Harmonic 33 - Long Shadow (2005)
From Music For Film, Television & Radio, Volume 1.
- Goblin - Sighs (1977)
From the soundtrack to Dario Argento's Suspiria, reissued on Bella Casa's The Awakening box set in 2012.
- Harper / Russe / St. George - Nightwalker (1972)
From Electrosonic, a library music record Don Harper, Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson (the latter two under pseudonyms) made for KPM, reissued by Glo-Spot in 2006.
- Clara Rockmore - Rachmaninoff: Vocalise (1977)
From The Art of the Theremin.
- Ela Orleans - Nocturne (2012)
From Tumult In Clouds.
- Elysian Fields - Black Acres (2000) – Free download available from Epitonic.
From Queen Of The Meadow.
- Luboš Fišer - Blood Red Rose (1972)
From the Morgiana soundtrack, released by Finders Keepers Records in 2013.
- Mono In VCF - We Could've Owned The World (2008)
From Mono In VCF.
Update: song has now been deleted from Soundcloud and is not available anywhere else yet.
A welcome surprise came a few days ago in the form of a new song from Lucky Soul, a band that has been sorely missed. They were last heard from on 2010's A Coming Of Age, an album that matured and expanded the meticulous retro pop sounds of their 2007 debut, The Great Unwanted. On both albums, they produced pop music that had hooks to spare, with heartfelt lyrics that were both wry and earnest.
Six years on from their last release, '(Hurts Like A) Bee Sting' shows their pop chops are not at all rusty. The effortless hooks, the level of songcraft and Ali Howard's distinctive voice, sounding better than ever, make this recognisably Lucky Soul, but there are some new flavours here as well. The downbeat disco style is a new sound for them, but as usual, they try on genre not for the sake of it, but because it fits the song's mood. They also get more political in their lyrics (not entirely surprising for a band who have a song about Billy Bragg): "Didn't take you so long / From the back room to the boys' club / Into the quarters of the king".
This is apparently from a 7" but there is no word on a release of that yet. There are also hints of a new album in the works; on social media, they cryptically posted coordinates that fans deduced were the location a mastering studio. Here's hoping that comes sooner than later; now they've whet my appetite, I miss them even more.
Actual Entity is the lovely debut album from Lake Ruth, a New York City-based band comprising members of The New Lines, Holy Fuck and The Eighteenth Day Of May. I mentioned in the Cat's Eyes post the influence of Broadcast and here it is again; Broadcast remain quietly influential on some of the best music coming out today. Lake Ruth are similarly adept at combining a 60s pop sensibility with unsettling, challenging elements. They not only channel Broadcast but their predecessors like The United States Of America. Just as the voices of Trish Keenan and Dorothy Moskowitz offer a comforting presence that guides the listener through the maelstrom of sounds on those band's releases, so do Allison Brice's poised, serene vocals on this album.
It's hard to pick a song to feature in this post, as every track is beautifully crafted and has something different to offer. There's the irresistibly melancholy refrain of 'The Only One Who Knows', the dark folk of their take on the traditional 'One Night As I Lay On My Bed', reminiscent of the likes of Sandy Denny, and the gentle groove of 'Cabin Fever', which reminds me a little of another amazing band, The Soundcarriers. But I went with 'The Timekeeper's Lament', as I love the combination of the heavy organ riff and the bell-like clarity of Allison's voice.
The third album from Cat's Eyes, Treasure House, was recently released and does not disappoint, continuing their streak of inventive pop noir. Some are calling this their second album, but I see no reason to discount their stunning soundtrack to The Duke Of Burgundy as an album proper, as it was not only released under the band's name, but as The Quietus points out, "its influence [is] tangibly present on this new work".
One thing I really enjoy about this album is that it incorporates, and seamlessly blends, elements of all their releases since their self-titled album debuted in 2011, including Rachel Zeffira's solo album The Deserters. There is the soothing, serene beauty of that release, the girl group and garage rock influences from Cat's Eyes, and some of the more lush, complex and haunting sounds of The Duke Of Burgundy. They have the ability to make these potentially disparate styles work well together across the album or, even more deftly, in the same song. On the album's second single, 'Drag', all these elements converge beautifully.
The album also evolves their sound by adding more colours to their palette, or by rearranging those previously used to create new shades. The Duke Of Burgundy begins, after a short instrumental, with Rachel Zeffira singing its soft, pastoral title theme. On Treasure House, the opening title track starts things in a similar mood, but here it is Faris Badwan's voice, usually heard on their heavier and more ominous songs, that lulls us gently, but with a subtle foreboding, into darker waters.
out of print
- February 19 2017
- February 2 2017
- December 24 2016
- December 23 2016
- November 25 2016
- November 19 2016
- November 11 2016
- October 29 2016
- October 7 2016
- September 1 2016
- August 29 2016
- July 30 2016
- July 19 2016
- July 14 2016
- Sun, Jun 25 2006
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