Fleet Foxes did not suffer the sophomore slump. In fact, their second LP Helplessness Blues was so well received that they seemed to found a different phenomenon: the sophomore peak, where after a six-year absence expectations for their third record were at fever pitch, and a similar level of rapturous acclaim was inevitably unattainable, especially for an album like this. Frontman Robin Pecknold, who’s singular voice defines the third of the band’s records in a way it hasn’t previously, posted on his (very wry) Instagram account a list of ‘inclinations’ for this cycle of music which largely comprise of defiance against the most celebrated characteristics of Helplessness Blues: “avoid singy-songy theatrical vocals” and “establish expectations, subvert expectations”. As a result, Crack-Up is more obtuse than even the subtler moments on Fleet Foxes’ debut, built instead on refused assertions, and contrasts. (more…)
How on earth do you write political music? As Josh Tillman, under the Father John Misty moniker, knows too well – people are partisan: every individual has an opposing opinion and almost all of them think they’re right. His third album, Pure Comedy, is so masterful because it manages to transcend politics, transcend partisanship and instead take a broader perspective – blending political tragedy with a literal cosmic view, all while retaining a deep intimacy. It was a talent he hinted towards on his previous record, as with the wonderful ‘Holy Shit’ from I Love You, Honeybear in which he sings “Maybe love is just an economy/Based on resource scarcity/What I fail to see is what that’s gotta do/With you and me?” Pure Comedy expands this sentiment over 75 minutes, exploring religion and the realpolitik, but asking (unsurprisingly for a songwriter often classed by critics and YouTube commentators alike as the most arrogant man on the indie scene)… what’s this all got to do with me?
Pure Comedy’s title track certainly lays it’s stall out early as a record that will address the capital-b Big Stuff about life on planet Earth: Tillman crooning “The comedy of man starts like this/Our brains are way too big for our mothers’ hips/And so Nature, she divines this alternative/We emerged half-formed and hope that whoever greets us on the other end/Is kind enough to fill us in”. He quickly defines himself as a songwriter looking at life from a macro point of view, but his words never lose their sense of affection, or wit. Pure Comedy, for all its nihilism, holds little in the way of naval gazing, or of blind didcatism: Tillman instead sings with great sincerity, concern and pain.
2016 was quite special for music. Perhaps the greatest year to be a fan of the medium so far this century, the quality has been such that it’ll take well into 2017 to fully appreciate the nuances of every great album released since January, where records which may have topped lists in years gone by barely make it into the top half of this one. Some years are defined by the names we now considered greats, some by fresh voices… This year had both, happening all at once.
It was a year where we bade farewell to Prince, David Bowie, Phife Dawg, George Michael and Leonard Cohen, several of whom released some of their best work in their final months… The myth that an artist peaks at middle age is no more. In a year of political turmoil dissident voices in music haven’t been as strong or as impassioned since the counterculture movement of the 1960’s and early 70’s, while pop culture’s biggest names in Drake, Frank Ocean and Kanye West undertook some of the most hype-building, and frustrating, release cycles yet.
This list was compiled by three music fans based only the albums they heard this year, featuring bias and ignorance of critical consensus. It is instead based solely on the music which impacted us, and which we enjoyed and listened to the most. From top to bottom, we consider all of these albums to be produced by incredibly talented individuals whose music this year will provide pleasure and inspiration for many more to come.
100. The Madness Of Many – Animals As Leaders
99. Weezer (The White Album) – Weezer
98. Baauer – Aa
97. Shirley Collins – Lodestar
This album is bad for your health. I know that because it’s all I’ve listened to once it was released last Friday and I’ve been nothing but melancholic since. There are a few precedents for material this mournful in popular music: Van Morrison’s ‘TB Sheets’, Leonard Cohen’s ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’, David Bowie’s Blackstar: but Skeleton Tree stands almost alone as the blackest aural pit. It sits towards the top of the iTunes charts amongst Now That’s What I Call Music 94 and a dozen songs featuring Justin Bieber like a gaping wound. If none of this makes the record sound especially appealing, then I’ve captured it well: it’s not. But it’s also one of the most powerful and emotionally raw collections of music ever produced.
David Bowie was one of the greatest musicians of the last 50 years. He produced some of the most iconic music of his era, but also some of the most innovative and challenging. A cultural chameleon; he became quickly bored with one style and leapt headfirst into another. He pioneered glam rock, punk rock, ambient music and new wave and tried his hand at soul, drum & bass and disco along the way. His music came with a cast of characters, from the infamous Ziggy Stardust and Major Tom to the more obscure Nathan Adler and *ahem* Jareth the Goblin King (hey, it was the 80s!)
Bowie’s music can be hard to pin down and, with such a formidable catalogue, it’s hard to work out where to even begin. In the wake of a death which touched music fans across the globe, it’s time to understand the hype: here are some suggestions on where to start. (more…)