Well what can I say about music in 2016. A horrible year for losses from the legends to the lesser known and local musicians but a year for me of great gigs, amazing new discoveries and some excellent albums and individual tracks.
Floating Points whose excellent 2015 album Elaenia I heard too late for last year’s list not only played one of the live highlights of the year but released the magnificent epic single ‘Kuiper’. Not quite enough to count as an album even at over 18 minutes but a definite high point.
Rozi Plain brought out an album of session tracks and remixes but led it with the deftly haunting ‘Marshes’.
I usually don’t consider live albums for these lists. They don’t often have new material even if they recast old songs in new forms. It would be remiss of me however not to acknowledge enjoyable and fascinating live albums from Kate Bush, Heart, Motörhead, and Trembling Bells. Another great show this year was Public Service Broadcasting who also brought out a live album I’ve not yet heard. A field of 5000 people cheering Jim Lovell’s voice from Apollo 8 is quite something .
And so the countdown: all rankings approximate and fluctuating
30. Heart – Beautiful Broken Yeah Heart. Kicking off with the title track’s seriously chunky riffs and belting vocal into the gorgeous power ballad cover of Ne-Yo’s ‘Two’ and beyond.
29. Case/lang /veirs – s/t that this is slightly less than the sum of its parts is purely down to the huge talents of these three incredible singers.
28. Let’s Eat Grandma – I, Gemini for a week or two this was on repeat. A little over hyped because of their youth but strong enough to work. Live their dark fairy-tale lyrics & creepy teen twin image is less effective.
26. Idris Ackamoor & The Pyramids – We Be All Africans comeback (again) album from afro jazz veterans. Soaring horns clash with funky drums.
25. Dexys – Let The Record Show the cover album is usually derided as unimaginative but Kevin Rowland is no ordinary artist. His previous album is one of the best this century, this isn’t quite that but the passion is undeniable.
24. Trembling Bells – The Wide Majestic Aire you know what you are getting with Trembling Bells. Glorious psych folk tunes. Again just an EP or it might be higher up the list.
23. Jenny Hval – Blood Bitch the clue is in the title. Hval’s theatrical art performance and exploration of blood metaphors will repay detailed study I’m sure, but if it wasn’t musically interesting too it wouldn’t be here.
22. Hidden Orchestra – Wingbeats experimental classical strings & electronic music taking sampled bird flights and song for its base (and bass)
21. Glenn Hughes – Resonate the opening track is called ‘Heavy’ and that sums up the driving theme of this album. Hughes is heavy but soulful and his band do a convincing updated Deep Purple.
20. Aziza Brahim – Abbar el Hamada Sahrawi refugee Brahim is one of the strongest contemporary voices and an important West African figure. Her bluesy blend of traditional and modern backs political & human lyrics.
19. Salena Godden – Live Wire live performance poetry that is as passionate as it is crude as it is outspoken politically as it is jazzy as it is funny as it is moving.
18. Cowtown – Paranormal Romance Leeds’ DIY jagged punk that says what it came to say clearly and refuses to outstay its welcome. Where more hyped bands like Cabbage have a whiff of gimmick, Cowtown are witty and sharp.
16. Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker he knew it was coming and in his generosity he shared his wisdom and grace. That voice got richer to match. The title track especially is amongst his finest songs.
(Part two the top 15 will follow soon)