Saturday 31 December 2016

My Favourite Albums of 2016: #2 Bon Iver - 22, A Million

The first time I heard Bon Iver’s 22, A Million was sitting on a double decker bus as it slowly weaved its way through the congested streets of central London. Importantly, I was listening on headphones; because this is a real ‘headphones album’ and one that suits a journey through the busy city – a time where you can sit, watch the world go slowly by and immerse yourself in Justin Vernon’s weird, messy, experimentally brilliant work.

Back in 2009 I named For Emma, Forever Ago my album of the year. It’s important to stress that this record bears very little resemblance to that one.  Whereas Bon Iver's debut was organic sounding, 22, A Million is a highly synthetic piece with lots of weird production tricks, sonic manipulation, moments of distortion and glitchy electronics. There’s nothing as straightforward as a simple song here, although underneath the wired tangential and broken structures there is still the essence of a singer-songwriter lurking beneath the surface, with some beautiful vocal harmonies and little snatches of melody (often with  incomprehensible lyrics) that can float into the brain. (Take a listen to 33 "God" below - notice how the intro sounds remarkably like a Tom Odell song before it warps off into another dimension).

22, A Million is no doubt a Marmite album. There are lovers and haters. Even the track listing, with its ridiculous titles such as ___45____ and 29 #Strafford APTS seems designed to infuriate as much as it does pleasure, but for me, there’s a huge amount of beauty within. In a year when much of the so called alternative scene seems bereft of ideas, relying on repeating the same old same old, Bon Iver throws them around as if he has more than he can handle. This is what makes 22, A Million such a fascinating and rewarding listen. Find yourself a bus ride, put on your headphones and let this take you to another place.

Bon Iver - 33 "God" (Video)

My Favourite Albums of 2016: #3 SURVIVE - RR7349

As I’ve already suggested elsewhere in this end of year list, it’s been a hell of a good year for electronic instrumental albums that take inspiration from the past, be they soundtrack recordings or stand-alone works. It’s also been a very fine year for all things Stranger Things related. 

Taking bronze medal position on this end of year list comes RR7349 by SURVIVE. (The title is simply the album's catalogue number). On this record the Austin based four-piece paint with a palette of analogue electronic darkness that is unsettling, druggy, menacing and shiveringly stunning, showing that they’re far more than just ‘the two blokes who did the Stranger Things soundtrack with a couple of mates’. When I wrote about them earlier in the year I threw in comparisons with John Carpenter, Tangerine Dream, Vangelis and Goblin and I’d stand by all of those (adding in Jean Michel Jarre for additional reference). If you’re already familiar with Stranger Things then that’s a good starting point to come to this record, but this is far more complex, far more layered, far deeper than anything you’ll find in the music that you associate the names Eleven, Mike, Dustin and Caleb with. It is completely absorbing - from start to finish.

SURVIVE - Wardenclyffe

My Favourite Albums of 2016: #4 Julia Jacklin - Don't Let The Kids Win

My fourth favourite album of 2016 is Don’t Let The Kids Win by Australian singer-songwriter Julia Jacklin.

This is a record of subdued slow burning  alt-country indie songs with the occasional touch of something a little grungier and raw. It isn’t an instant big hitting album. It’s hues are smoky and gently languorous, the musical equivalent of sitting in a quiet bar staring out of the window with a cigarette and a long drink. It's an album of clever observational wit. It’s an album that on first sounds like it isn’t trying to hard, but then the try too hards always lack the authenticity to keep you listening for much more than a moment. This isn’t a record that takes a moment. It needs more than that. It’s worth your time.

Julia Jacklin - Hay Plain

Julia Jacklin - Pool Party (Video)

My Favourite Albums of 2016: #5 Michael Kiwanuka - Love & Hate

Timeless. It’s the only word to describe Michael Kiwanuka’s second album Love & Hate. I'm, pretty sure I'll still be listening to this one in 10 years time.

Whereas his debut Home Again trod faithfully in the footsteps of the likes of Bill Withers and Otis Reading and sometimes found itself a little too much in homage to those past masters, Love & Hate sees Kiwanuka truly finding his own voice. The essence of the past is still there, but this time it’s as much informed by the present. Kiwanuka’s vocals soothe, even although his lyrics are often self doubting, angsty and questioning. The music is orchestrated and played with total assurance, creating a warm soulful spell. I doubt you’ll find many songs better than the near 10 minute long opener Cold Little Heart this year.

The BBC Sound of list is often criticised for being about acts that are over hyped and don’t match up to expectation in the longer term. Kiwanuka topped the 2012 Sound of list. This record is one of two in my end of year top 5 that shows that that criticism isn’t always justified.

Michael Kiwanuka - One More Night (Video)

My Favourite Albums of 2016: #6 Kate Tempest - Let Them Eat Chaos

Back in 2014 Kate Tempest’s Everybody Down found itself at number 4 on my end of year list and in 2016 her new record Let Them Eat Chaos is at number 6.  “A complete album - individual tracks sound weaker when listened to on their own. It’s only when you fit the whole thing together and listen to it from start to finish in one go that you feel its density and everything falls into place. Like all the best stories it’s also one that needs far more than one listen to get everything out of it, probably why we've played it so much since we first heard it. That's why it's no.4 in our list of most played records of 2014,” is how I described Everybody Down and this description also fits to Let Them Eat Chaos

As you’d expect with Kate Tempest her very visual wordplay takes centre ground. On Let Them Eat Chaos she brings a cast of characters together to form something that is bigger than the individual and as a result makes something rather special and thought provoking. Using a backdrop of a London street at 4.18 in the morning she delves into the twilight, the alienation, the despair and the hopelessness of people and projects it all onto a bigger canvas of global turmoil, before delivering a powerful call to action ending. That’s not to say that the music here also doesn’t have a place – it does – with Dan Carey returning to the fold again to deliver a varied blend of computerisations, but ultimately this music is designed as a backing to Kate’s words; that’s what you really need to soak up. A compelling and vital piece of work.

Kate Tempest - Let Them Eat Chaos (Album Trailer)

Kate Tempest - Lionmouth Door Knocker

My Favourite Albums of 2016: #7 Shura - Nothing's Real

When it comes to out and out pop, albums of the year lists tend to proportionally feature very little. There’s a whole debate to be had about why this is; critics elitist snobbery, the genre's reliance on hit singles rather than albums and the transient fashion based nature of pop are probably some of the factors that hinder it. Thankfully Shura’s Nothing’s Real suffers from none of the above. It’s a pop record with depth, quality, longevity and the critics generally liked it as well. So did I. I loved the album’s sleek, soft focus, 80’s referencing American high school prom electronic sound and its romantic, emotional and thoughtful outlook. Nothing’s Real was as shiny and synthetic as they come, but it was full of character and good songs.

Shura - What's It Gonna Be

My Favourite Albums of 2016: #8 Emma Pollock - In Search of Harperfield

What do indie kids do when they get old? They listen to (and record) albums like In Search of Harperfield. Emma Pollock, ex Delgado, hadn’t released a solo album since 2010’s The Law of Large Numbers, but the wait was more than worth it. Describing a record as ‘mature’ can often suggest that it’s rather dull, but In Search of Harperfield disproves that rule. This a very adult, sometimes understated, record but it’s anything but boring. Each song is threaded with fascinating plaintive vocal melodies and masterful chamber-pop instrumentation that weave in and out of the record in a way that is never simple but always accessible. Named after the first house Pollock's parents bought after they married, In Search of Harperfield’s clearly a very personal record that is informed by her own reflections of her family and some of the complexities within. It’s a fine body of work with a wintery charm that I’ve enjoyed a lot in 2016. 

Emma Pollock - Dark Skies (Video)

My Favourite Albums of 2016: #9 Cliff Martinez - The Neon Demon OST

The countdown towards my favourite album of the year continues with another film soundtrack. 

Nicolas Winding Refn’s visually stunning film The Neon Demon may be a bit of a marmite movie for those who have seen it (I’m in the love camp – for me it was a pure piece of art rather than just a movie - its characters may have been cold and paper thin, but that was surely the point) but I think that most fans of electronic instrumental music will find plenty to adore within this soundtrack. It’s a work of nightglow pulsing synths and beats, with occasional moments of ambience; a body of music that doesn’t just sit behind the film, giving it a greater depth, but pushes to the forefront so that it works as its own individual body of work. If you loved the Blade Runner soundtrack by Vangelis, are an admirer of Jean Michel Jarre (who’s Oxygene 3 release this year narrowly missed my top 25) and enjoy music that has a cold dark heart, The Neon Demon is the one for you.

A word of warning however about this record, and it's a reason why it's at number than 9 rather than say 6 or 7 - there are a couple of non-Cliff Martinez tracks on it. Mine by Sweet Tempest certainly works on the film and is not an entirely unenjoyable distraction, reminding me a little bit of the band Garbage, but right at the end Sia crops up with the song Waving Goodbye. It’s a decent enough pop song but jars a little with everything that comes before. I’d suggest pressing stop after the bone tingling Get Her Out Of Me, (a modified version of the opening track) and then go and watch the film, which might bore you stupid or might leave a deep lasting impression on you.

Cliff Martinez - The Neon Demon

My Favourite Albums of 2016: #10 Misty Miller - The Whole Family Is Worried

So, we hit the top 10 in my favourite albums of 2016. Expect to see some that have featured on virtually every list under the sun and some that probably only feature here. It’s one of those less hyped records that it’s time to turn attention to now as Misty Miller’s The Whole Family Is Worried takes the number 10 spot.

This record is the first of two arguments in the top 10 that sometimes it’s worth sticking with an artist, even if a record label doesn’t see it that way. Misty first featured as one of my Ones to Watch tips in 2010, playing sweet pixie-like love songs on a ukulele. The subsequent album was nice enough, but perhaps a little too cloying for my tastes. However, even at the time she stated her influences included Bob Dylan and rockabilly music. She clearly wasn’t your average 16 year old.

Fast forward to 2016 and Misty’s second album is a very different beast. Whilst The Whole Family Is Worried retained her ability to produce a hooky pop melody, this record was a fiery holler-along joy, full of angry guitars and lyrics about being a young woman right now. Often brutally honest, vulnerable, funny and angry, but always full of life. The number of times I’ve yelled along to the “I’ve been sleeping with your friends,” line of Happy, the song that should have been a hit, is ridiculous.

Sadly, despite positive reviews and great songs The Whole Family Is Worried got somewhat overlooked. So, if the point of these lists is to suggest a record for you to listen to, that you haven’t done yet, then you know what to do now….

Misty Miller - Happy (Video)

My Favourite Albums of 2016: #11 The Orb - COW / Chill Out World!

Looking at the UK singles and album chart it seems incredible that back in the 90’s an act that produced albums that straddled ambient, house, dub, reggae and weird electronic techno, with no vocals except occasional samples grabbed a number one album and a handful of top 10 singles, including one single (Blue Room) that was forty minutes long. The chances of this sort of thing happening nowadays, with the insipid and dull as dishwater indistinguishability of the majority of the chart is virtually zero.

This is a shame, because The Orb’s COW Chill Out World! album is their best record since their 90’s heyday. It’s also their most ambient release to date. The obvious reference point here is The KLF’s seminal Chill Out, which the title of the album clearly pays homage to, as well as perhaps making a mellow point about the human races current state of non-well-being. 

Like The KLF record this is a journey through a collage of sound. There’s bird song, ripples of music that float in and out and the whole thing is virtually free of beats. What makes COW stand out though is the attention to detail and the gentle free-spirited warmth of the sounds. Truly an ambient album to lose yourself in and one which has soundtracked many a late night at Breaking More Waves HQ.

The Orb - 4am Exhale (Chill Out World)

My Favourite Albums of 2016: #12 David Bowie - Blackstar

From a truly exceptional man, came a truly exceptional final album. 50 years into his career Bowie’s last record was as at the top of the pile when it came to 2016’s innovative and inspiring releases. From the cover’s black star symbol finality combined with the use of the Terminal font on the rear, through to the abstract electro-acoustic jazz music contained within, Black Star is a challenging and ambitious record channelled with lyrics that spoke in part of the very near future. “Look up here, I’m in heaven, I’ve got scars that can’t be seen,” he sang on the absurdly truthful and brilliant Lazarus. ” I know something is very wrong,” he added  later towards the close.

It would be very easy to put Black Star in an end of year list because of Bowie’s death. But that’s not the case. Black Star is there on musical merit. There’s no big pop hits or radio friendly singalongs but a huge depth that allows the listener to explore its strangeness for hours on end.

David Bowie - Lazarus (Video)

My Favourite Albums of 2016: #13 Billie Marten - Writing of Blues and Yellows

One of the criticisms I often see aimed at end of year Ones to Watch / Sound of / Next Year Tips lists is that by the end of the year very few of the tips end up on best of year album lists, suggesting that tippers are too affected by hype and not enough by judging long term quality. Not all of my own tips make it onto my end of year lists, although a couple of years ago, Chvrches made my no.1 album after selecting them as One to Watch a year before – so the criticism doesn’t necessarily hold true.

Looking at my tips for 2016, only Billie Marten has made it onto this end of year list. Mind you of the 10 acts I tipped, maybe I was a bit early as just 4 released albums with many of the others gearing up for long players in 2017.

Billie's debut was called Writing of Blues and Yellows. It’s a beautifully constructed and graceful album for those long lost Sunday afternoons, staring out of the window and contemplating life.

Every song acts as a slow soothing lullaby. Billie’s voice is often not much more than a whisper, the music often sad and mournful, with acoustic sounds prominent. Even when the likes of brass instruments are introduced it’s not to perp up the record to some sort of joviality, but to give an even greater sense of melancholy. Whilst Writing of Blues and Yellows is a record that sounds fragile in its loveliness, it’s also very much one full of substance. 

Billie Marten - Lionhearted (Video)

My Favourite Albums of 2016: #14 Vaults - Caught In Still Life

Vaults debut album finally saw the light of day in 2016 after what seemed like a very long gestation period and one unpleasant setback; band member Ben Vella was diagnosed with testicular cancer last year and needed to take some time out for treatment and recovery. However, with a couple of key placements of their songs, namely One Last Night on the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack and their cover of One Day I’ll Fly Away on the John Lewis Christmas advert, there was still an audience ready and waiting for Caught In Still Life. It didn’t disappoint. It’s an album of classy adult pop songs, which takes electronics as its starting point but adds additional layers of instrumentation (strings, aluphone, piano) to make it stand out from the crowd. 

Caught In Still Life will be missing from many end of year lists by virtue of its December release, which is a real shame, as this is a magnificent and meticulously crafted album that fans of bands like Florence & The Machine and London Grammar would do well to investigate.

Vaults - Premonitions

My Favourite Albums of 2016: #15 Various Artists - Space Echo The Mystery Behind The Cosmic Sound Of Cabo Verde Finally Revealed

My 15th favourite album of the year is probably something you wouldn’t expect to see on Breaking More Waves. It’s an album of music from 350 miles off the west coast of Africa. Furthermore, it’s not new music, although it was released in 2016. It’s also a compilation. 

However, I’m making the rules here, not you – and I’ve included compilations before. In fact, Ten by Girls Aloud (their greatest hits album – and boy were there some hits on it) was fourth in this list in 2012. 

But before you even get to the music there’s plenty to love about the record. First the title. I mean, come on, who wouldn’t love an album called Space Echo – The Mystery Behind The Cosmic Sound Of Cabo Verde. It sounds so intriguing. 

Then there’s the back story of how a ship carrying Korgs, Moogs and Hammond organs that was headed for Rio de Janeiro became marooned on the São Nicolau island of Cape Verde with the crew vanished. An anti-colonial leader named Cabral asked for the retrieved instruments to be distributed equally among the archipelago’s schools and overnight the young generation of Cape Verde’s population gained access to cutting edge musical electronic equipment and inspired an explosion of newly electrified sounds in the 1970’s. Those sounds can be heard on Space Echo – The Mystery Behind The Cosmic Sound of Cabo Verde.

The result is a high energy analogue tropical synth dance party with influences that range from all over the world, not just Africa. And whilst there are electronics on the album there’s plenty of intricate guitar jives, rhythms and grooves to get you on your feet. An album of absolute jams. 

Dionisio Maio - Dia Ja Manche 

My Favourite Albums of 2016: #16 Honeyblood - Babes Never Die

Second album in and Honeyblood once again find themselves on the list of my end of year favourites just as they did in 2014. Despite a line-up change (Cat Myers replacing Shona McVicar on drums) Babes Never Die doesn’t go on any radical shift in sound from the self-titled debut, but does manage to be more confident, more empowered and possesses a greater clarity. Of course, it also features some great songs, particularly on the venomous and rallying title track and the hard riffing Ready For The Magic. If anyone thinks that indie rock is dead, this is a forceful and potent argument against that.

Honeyblood - Sea Hearts

My Favourite Albums of 2016: #17 Steve Moore - The Mind's Eye OST

As I’ve already suggested, 2016 was an excellent year for instrumental and soundtrack albums, particularly those that are centred around creating atmosphere and texture to films or TV shows that have haunting or horrible goings on. Steve Moore is already widely known for his work with Zombi and here we find him flying solo with 33 electronic tracks that recall the likes of classic scary flicks by the likes of Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci and John Carpenter. If you loved the Stranger Things music, then this will be up your dark street. Moore uses modern technology to create eerie pieces of 80’s referencing music that bear some resemblance to work by Goblin, Tangerine Dream and Jean Michel Jarre. It’s a creepy, nervy and spacey sounding soundtrack, with just enough variety. It has been hailed, rightly so, as Moore’s best work to date. As for the film itself? Well I’ve not seen it, but judging by the reviews I’d stick with the album (!)

Steve Moore - On The Phone

My Favourite Albums of 2016: #18 Kate Bush - Before The Dawn

When it was announced that Kate Bush was returning to the live stage in 2014 my girlfriend and I decided that it would be one of the few single artist shows that we’d be prepared to break our own price limit rules to see. Kate’s music had been a constant in our lives and with the distinct possibility that this would be our only chance to witness her play meant that we were prepared to pay for top price tickets (over £100 – more than we would ever normally consider for a single artist show) to see her.

Thankfully the online ticket scrum worked in our favour and in August 2014 we found ourselves seated on the second row of the balcony to watch The K Fellowship present Before The Dawn. The show was everything we wanted it to be and more; an overwhelming piece of musical theatre that was worth every penny. 

One thing that struck me about the show was how old fashioned it was. The staging didn’t rely on computerisation, but real solid physical props, and the band themselves, who were all clearly superb versatile professionals, had at times a whiff of the deeply proggy to their sound.

That sense of the old fashioned has translated exceptionally well to this recording of the shows. First of all, it wasn’t released to streaming services. Yes folks, if you wanted Before the Dawn, you had to pull out your wallet. 

Secondly, the release came in gatefold style packaging, with photos and sleeve notes. Remember those? 

Then there’s the recorded sound itself. Before the Dawn doesn’t make the mistake so many live albums make of being produced, overdubbed and polished to the point of not sounding live. This sounds as I remember the show. It still has that booming echoing quality that indoor live sound has. Kate’s voice as well sounds very real; slightly deeper, occasionally slightly gruff (although let’s be clear – Kate’s live vocal is still one hundred times more perfect than most singers in live rock bands – and the gruffness is really just an occasional throatiness). 

My only complaint is that the lengthy applause by the audience seems to have been edited and shortened, hence losing some of the sheer sense of raw emotion from the crowd, but the reasons for this are understandable as a home listening experience. Despite that minor gripe, Before The Dawn is as close as possible to what I wanted – an accurate presentation of a powerful, graceful and thrilling show that works best played very loud.

Kate Bush - And Dream Of Sleep (Live)

My Favourite Albums of 2016: #19 Daughter - Not To Disappear

Back in 2013 Daughter’s debut album If You Leave came 3rd on my end of year list. The fact that Not to Disappear only comes 19th in 2016 doesn’t necessarily mean it’s any weaker – it’s more because the record connected with me less personally than any judgement on the musical quality (which remains consistently high throughout). The reason for that lesser affinity is probably due to the fact that when a record is so intimate, if the listener isn't feeling the same way it can be harder to fully appreciate, although of course, it's still possible to empathise. 

Musically Not to Disappear has plenty more of the brooding atmospherics and bleak melancholy that made their debut such a must listen, but this time round there are some surprises to keep you on your toes, such as the verging on aggressive No Care, ensuring that this isn’t just a formulaic re-tread of the debut but something that's looking forward and evolving.

Daughter - No Care (Video)

My Favourite Albums of 2016: #20 Kyle Dixon & Michael Stein - Stranger Things OST Volume One

On my first post on my albums of the year countdown I wrote about how Ian William Craig’s record Centres is a record from the other world, and here’s another, or at least perhaps this one’s from a place known as the upside down. The Stranger Things Soundtrack was created by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein of Austin band SURVIVE.

It’s been a very good year for retro synth instrumental and / or soundtrack albums and this is the first of a number of records on my list that fall into these categories. If you’ve seen the hit Netflix show you’ll already know what to find here, but if you haven’t, expect a collection of restrained, spooky, minimal electronica. Even if you haven’t seen it (and I highly recommend you do), take a listen and prepare to be haunted.

The stream below previews clips from the soundtrack.

Stranger Things Vol 1 Preview

My Favourite Albums of 2016: #21 Petite Meller - Lil Empire

If 2016 was the year that out and out pop music lost its way a little due to too much reliance on repetition of the same formula over and over again to make hits for an increasingly lazy listening public, then French artist and performer Petite Meller stood out a little with Lil Empire, her record of bubbly jazzy hands in the air pop music. Complete with a strong visual component in her stylish videos shot on location in different parts of the world, Meller was clearly dancing to her own beat and I was more than happy to dance with her. 

Sadly, there was no physical release for Lil Empire, although that is to be addressed in January 2017 with the album out physically on Island, but even so her late summer bop of a release was a joy – rammed with hooky, irresistible songs. There was a concern prior to release that the record was simply going to be full of Baby Love clones, but over its full length the tunes worked to create a full and varied listening experience, but one set very much in Meller’s universe - a universe that stirred up some arguments on line about her videos and cultural appropriation, although others argued that Meller was merely celebrating cultures she was inspired by. Like all art, it's probably up to you as the viewer and listener to make your own judgements on these matters. Either way, this was a pop record that made me feel alive.

Petite Meller - The Flute (Video)

Petite Meller - Lil Love

My Favourite Albums of 2016: #22 James - Girl At The End Of The World

The Girl At The End Of The World is James’ 14th studio album. At this stage in their career you could quite easily expect them to adopt an 'if it ain’t broke don’t fix it' attitude. But then James have never been that sort of band. Even at their arena touring peak, they were a contrary bunch, following up the anthemic Seven with a largely acoustic based album (Laid) and then a collection of weird radio unfriendly experimentation (Wah Wah). With Girl At The End Of The World, hooky, wide-eyed songs are mainly back at the forefront  – typified by the glorious Nothing But Love, a tune that if you’re based in the UK you might have heard being sung by children as part of an advert for The National Lottery or on an advert for Amazon. However, James don’t play safe. There’s still a big sense of a band willing to experiment, try different sounds and styles, and managing to make something of merit. Somewhere along the course of this record you’ll find a slow weary synth pop tune that sounds like a distant cousin to Kylie, The Pet Shop Boys or Blancmange, a lip-curling, dirty, propulsive nod to the soundtrack to Peter Gunn, slide guitar riffs and a song that contains the chorus “Were you just born an asshole?” And that's just for starters.

Girl At The Of The World probably didn’t bring in many new fans to the fold, but it comes recommended by this old fan for featuring a number of great tunes and being an example of how it’s possible, even when you’ve been doing it for years, to still be full of ideas and be prepared to experiment. New bands take note.

James - Nothing But Love (Video)

My Favourite Albums of 2016: #23 Let's Eat Grandma - I, Gemini

With pop music reaching middle age it’s probably not that surprising to find that one of its most off-kilter experimental albums of 2016 was created by two teenage girls from Norwich, UK. I, Gemini is a truly fearless record – an album that doesn’t sound in any way as if it’s been designed by a record label committee, but by two unique and individual minds. I, Gemini won’t be to everyone’s taste – but if you like the idea of a musical equivalent of a peculiar and unsettling Grimm’s fairytale then dive in. Even just a glance of the song titles here – Chocolate Sludge Cake, Chimpanzees In Canopies, Eat Shiitake Mushrooms - will tell you that this duo are not operating in the same world as Little Mix. In fact they’re not operating in the same world as anyone else. Yes, there are moments when I, Gemini is far from an easy listen, but that’s all part of their warped charm.

Let's Eat Grandma - Rapunzel

My Favourite Albums of 2016: #24 Låpsley - Long Way Home

One of the nicest things about being a music fan is discovering a talented artist in their very early stages and then, because of that talent, watch their careers grow. Such is the way with Låpsley who first appeared on Breaking More Waves on the 28th December 2013 as an unsigned singer and producer with a disarmingly beautiful, minimal, pitch-shifted vocal ‘duet’ called Station. From that point a deal with XL Records followed and in 2016 Holly Lapsley Fletcher’s debut album Long Way Home followed. The question here was how could she possibly create an album that matched the sleek simplicity of Station

The answer was, she didn’t need to. Long Way Home was much more fully fleshed than might be expected. The likes of Operator (He Doesn’t Call Me) found her going up-tempo, reaching out to the disco and sounding a little like a lost M People tune, whilst Hurt Me was a big electronic pop ballad that managed to sound grandiose and intimate in equal measure. Long Way Home was a highly cohesive debut record that has provided the footing for Holly to go in any direction she wants in the future. I'm looking forward to seeing what comes next.

Låpsley - Hurt Me (Video)

My Favourite Albums of 2016: #25 Ian William Craig - Centres

So here we go, the countdown of my favourite 25 albums of 2016, with one post every hour, finishing at exactly the point the year ends in my own country. 

I start with the latest release from Ian William Craig, a Canadian artist who uses tape players and synthesizers to create hypnotically languid songs formed from ambient sounds, static noise and drifting electronics, which wafts and billows like a cloudy giant. Let's call it choral-gaze. Its overall effect is one of entering another world, one where there’s just enough familiarity to know what’s going on, but as you reach out and touch something your understanding of the place shifts a little. The textures here are different. This is a numbing hypnagogic record from the leftfield. A trip onto the other side or at least a transition to another state that is as bleak as it is beautiful.

Friday 30 December 2016

Some Words About My Forthcoming Albums of 2016 List

Here we are, the last day of 2016 is almost upon us.

Every year I give a lot of thought to my end of year album list and over the years have read and digested a lot of other authors’ thoughts on creating theirs. Why give it so much thought? 


1. I’m a geek and love end of year lists. 

2. For me, someone’s end of year list is a statement of not only their taste, but their musical journey over the previous 12 months. It defines them. It’s important. It’s an insight into their world.

Previously, I’ve published end of year lists based on gut instinct, complex formula that have mathematically calculated my favourite, and even simply used the idea of which records I’ve listened to the most (and kept a tally all year of the records I played) suggesting that if it’s my most listened to, it must be my favourite. This suggestion created quite a bit of a debate amongst the other end of year list geeks out there.

Traditionally I’ve started publishing my list around mid-December, ending just before Christmas, posting 10-15 albums, with one post a day. 

This year I’m doing things differently. I’ve come to the conclusion (for the time being at least) that you really shouldn’t finalise an end of year list, no matter how you decide on your favourites, until at least the last day of the year. After all it’s not really taking into account a whole year of listening, is it?

So tomorrow I’ll be publishing my list, which will be modified (if appropriate) right up to the final moment I start publishing it. 

This year I’m featuring 25 albums in order of preference from lowest to highest. The order is a little bit arbitrary this time round. No formula or complex calculation was used. However, the ones near the top end of the list I prefer to those lower down, but the positions (especially lower down) could change from day to day. The top 5 I'd keep the same though. 25 is way more than I’ve ever done before, but this year, because of streaming (and in particular Spotify) I’ve listened to more albums than ever before, albeit most of them far less than I would have listened to an album in previous years. I’ve never been a fan of sole author blogs that publish their Top 50 or Top 100 albums. When I see such lists I’m always questioning how good their 97th favourite can actually be?  

So, 25 is my absolute limit, one posted on the hour, every hour, from midnight to midnight (in my country at least). This means that my favourite record of the year will be revealed at exactly as Big Ben chimes and we go into 2017. The posts aren't long in most cases, the aim was to keep them around 100-150 words. Some achieve that. Some go way over. Sorry about that.

If you can’t be bothered to read them all I’ll provide a summary list on New Year’s Day.

This year I’ve noticed an awful lot of the same records cropping up on many peoples end of year lists, be they sole author blogs like this one or bigger websites where the lists are formed by consensus or voting. You’ll find some of those records on my list as well. After all, there’s a reason why a lot of music lovers like a particular record – it’s probably pretty good. You’ll also no doubt think I’ve made some glaring omissions. Don’t criticise me for this – it might be I’ve not listened to that record you love, or it just didn’t do anything for me. That’s the beauty of taste, right? 

So, there’s no Frank Ocean on my list (listened twice and it bored the pants off me), Leonard Cohen (haven’t listened to it) or Nick Cave (listened once, it seemed pretty decent, but I never got around to listening to it properly, so I’m not putting it on the list), Mitski (it was ok, but I found her voice a little too atonal for my tastes and the songs somewhat dreary) or Beyonce (I would have streamed it but you know...Tidal exclusives are killing music). All these records have appeared on a multitude of critics end of year lists. But they aren't on mine.

However, this does mean there will (hopefully) be a few records that you won’t see on other people’s lists. I’m not being purposefully obscure with those choices – some are very mainstream sounding records, some aren’t – but wherever they have come from, they are simply albums that were released in 2016 and are...not 'the best' or 'the most essential listens', because that's for you to decide. They are however, my favourites.... ones I’ve enjoyed and connected with in 2016. I’m grateful that they define me.

Friday 23 December 2016

My Favourite 5 Singles Of 2016

You’re not a proper music obsessive unless you do some end of year lists – right? Well, I certainly have plenty of them, and the big one, my end of year album list, will be published here right at the end of the year with 25 albums, one posted each hour from midnight to midnight on New Year’s Eve, each one with a few accompanying thoughts.

For now, here are my 5 favourite singles of 2016. There’s no messing here, no written commentary, just the music. This is my final post of the year until everything related to the 25 post marathon on New Year's eve. Have a good Christmas.

1. Maggie Rogers – Alaska

2. She Drew The Gun – Poem

3. Sofi Tukker – Drinkee

4. The XX- On Hold

5. Anteros – Breakfast

New Music: Shy Nature - My Christmas Tree (Is Looking At Me)

Hello. My name is Mr Tree. I am of the Christmas variety.

I am writing to you today to bring to your awareness of the slaughter and ongoing terror that many of us trees face every year. It starts around late November when we are brutally cut down from our natural forest homes, removed from our families and thrown on board large vehicles. We are pressed up against each other in cramped claustrophobic conditions, taken to strange parts of the world far removed from where we have grown up. We are held by against our will by humans, often in torturously hot conditions, with not even a top up supply of water to stop our needles from drying out. We suffer weeks of savagery and humiliation as they dress us up in ridiculous sparkling tinsel and baubles and stick a fairy on our top. After several weeks of this degrading treatment, we’re taken outside and thrown out with the rubbish, with no thanks. We often end up being hacked to death by a machine, ending up as pieces of woodchip, thrown on someone’s garden, ready for a cat to crap on.

So, this Christmas, dear humans, whilst enjoying yourselves, please consider the well-being of us trees. We may not be for life, but still need some love – each one of us is special.

Here’s a song you might want to consider by Shy Nature. Your Christmas tree is looking at you. You have been warned. If things don't change we will have to take things into our own branches.

Shy Nature - My Christmas Tree (Is Looking At Me)

Wednesday 21 December 2016

New Music: Charles Cave - This Fucking Time Of Year

Happy Christmas my angels. Mwah!

Mariah here. Mwah again! I’m back again. You might have heard me on the radio here and there in the last few weeks. It's so exciting!!! I love Christmas!!!

Now…I’ve a big question for you all. What do you all want good old Santa to bring you for Christmas? Have you made your list? Have you been good? 

I have. I've been very good. But do you know what kids? I don't want a lot for Christmas, there is just one thing I need, I don't care about the presents, underneath the Christmas tree, all I want for Christmas is you to BLOODY STREAM MY SONG OVER AND OVER AND OVER. I F*CKIN’ WANT THAT CHRISTMAS NO.1 SINGLE AND IF I DON’T GET IT THERE WILL BE MURDER. REAL MURDER. STARTING WITH THE F*CKIN’ ELVES, THEN THE PISSY REINDEER AND THEN BLOODY SANTA HIMSELF AND YOU KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS DON’T YOU? NO PRESENTS FOR YOU!!!!

So my little sweetie pies, when you’re getting ready for Christmas, think of the real spirit of the day, and stick All I Want For Christmas Is You on repeat on Spotify or the fat man in the red suit with the beard gets it. OK? 

Whatever you do, please don’t stream synth pop shiner This Fucking Time of Year by Charles Cave of White Lies fame with its potty mouthed chorus – it’s vulgar. You’d never get me using that sort of language.

Happy Christmas my darlings! Mwah xxx

Sunday 18 December 2016

New Music: The Big Moon - It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

Hello everyone. Tezza here. As you can see I’m really getting into the holiday spirit with my new Cabinet Minister for Festivities. – the bastard doesn’t look very happy about it does he though? Maybe he’s been having words with Boris about his new boss? What a toss pot.

I hope you’re all looking forward to a hard Christmas. I’ve got a plan for mine, but I’m not going to tell anyone what it is. You’ll just all have to wait and see – maybe it won’t even be on Dec 25th. Maybe it’ll take 10 years before we have another one. But I’ll tell you one thing - my husband Phillip is in for a treat. I’ve got some very special leather trousers to go with my naughty elf costume I like to wear for him on Christmas day whilst he puts on his hanky-panky Santa tinsel thong and we dance around Downing Street to our favourite Christmas tunes.

Here’s one that I might get one of the slaves Downing Street staff to put on the stereo. They’re called The Big Moon and apparently they’re what’s known as an 'indie rock band'. Well, I have to confess I don’t know much about that, but they’ve got some jingle bells which is the right and proper thing to do and they’ve covered It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year, which it certainly is if you’re me, because I’M F*CKING IN CHARGE NOW rather than the pig f*cker. Happy Christmas everyone, this is Tezz signing off, I'm off for a nice Paella and a Belgian beer now with David Davis before we get down to a game of naked Twister as we like to do on the run up to Christmas in the House of Commons meeting rooms every year.

The Big Moon - It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

Friday 16 December 2016

New Music: Billie Marten - White Christmas

Oi oi kidz. It’s nearly f*ckin Chriiiiiistmaaaaas! And that meanz me and me pals are back takin’ over this sh*t piece of a blog that the reindeers dragged in from the backyard between now and Christmas eve, postin’ some shite to warm yer winter earz and arses to.

And f*ck me, look whooooze back. Remember this lass? Because We Want To woz a banger wasn’t it? And what about Honey to the Bee? Then she became a high-class hooker and after that tried to get into Dr Who’s pants. What a girl. Sounds a bit like Mrs Claus. She's always tryin' to get in my pants, but I keep tellin' 'er Christmas comes once a year and she'll have to wait. Now Billie’s havin’ another go at the old music, and this ain’t half bad. Not as good as Because We Want To mind you. What? Ey? Wha’ ya sayin? This ain’t that Billie? Oh for f*cks sake. I think oi’ve ‘ad too much of the old Christmas sherry already. Well, ‘tis the season to be jolly ain’t it?

So this Billie lass, she seems alright. She’s fookin’ dreamin’ of a white Christmas is she? She really ought to come up ‘ere to bloody Lapland then. We’ve got loads of the fuckin’ white stuff. There’s a few bits of yellow as well. Pesky elves – they’ve been pissin’ in it as well.

Right ho. Time for another sherry. Happy f*ckin Christmas kids. Let’s get rat-arsed.

Billie Marten - White Christmas

Sunday 11 December 2016

New Music : Introducing - Mosa Wild

Sometimes things just take a little time. Bands need to transition from one project to the next before they get it right. 

On debut track Smoke Mosa Wild get it absolutely right. They might not be totally new to this game, but I get a sense that something wonderful has been brewing from their earlier incarnation. This is a warm and evocative piece of music that recalls the gentler and more reflective side of The Maccabees (with perhaps a hint of Springsteen as well) and a vocal delivery that possesses the same rich quality as Matt Berninger of The National. In fact can someone double check this isn’t Berninger please? 

Smoke is both intimate and gloriously wide-screen in equal measure - and despite its obvious comparisons is rather wonderful.

Mosa Wild is Jim Rubaduka, Alex Stevens, Charlie Campbell and Edwin Ireland. For those websites who go late with their 2017 Ones to Watch lists, they're a recommendation from me to you.

Mosa Wild - Smoke

Thursday 8 December 2016

New Music: Clare Maguire - Keep Me Hanging On

Clare Maguire was one of my Ones to Watch in 2009. She was on the BBC Sound of List for 2011. But 2016 has really been her year. A very special album called Stranger Things Have Happened and some superb live shows that had everything from raw emotional singing to humour to me dancing on stage (yes, that actually happened at one show in London) have proved that sometimes the most important ingredient of good music, just like cooking, is time.

Now there’s no stopping her. “After years of being told 'no' I'm finally saying 'yes' and putting out tracks that have been shelved because I like them,” says Clare. Freedom suits her. 

Her latest back in stock offering is her version of The Supremes song You Keep Me Hanging On, which Clare has deleted the You from. It’s one of my favourite Motown songs and here Clare takes it in a different direction, but one that I can certainly feel love for.

There will be a new EP (including this cover) from Clare Maguire in the New Year. Let's hope that Stranger Things Have Happened finds its way onto a few end of year lists. 

Clare Maguire - Keep Me Hanging On

Wednesday 7 December 2016

New Music: Introducing - Bien

They might hail from Nashville but Bien challenge all the preconceived ideas and assumptions you are probably making about their location and the genre of music they make. For they are as far away from country as you could imagine. Their stuff is all synths, beats and melodies and it sounds absolutely wonderful. Then just to add some variety they've recorded a gorgeous strings and piano duet as well; it will make you swoon a little harder.

Having released their debut EP in September, as yet they haven’t picked up much traction, with just a handful of plays on Soundcloud and around a thousand plays per song on Spotify. This is a real shame because the EP is a truly irresistible collection of pop songs – the biggest difficulty I had in writing this post was choosing which particular song to stream. Eventually I picked Crowd Goes Wild, a tune which mixes old fashioned geeky robot pop electronic sounds with plenty of modern flourishes, dreamy soft vocals and hooks galore. By the time they sing ‘throw up your hands, get up, get down,’ I pretty much guarantee that’s exactly what you’ll be doing. Get ready to feel the heat, as Bien drop the beat. Pop music of the finest order.

Try Crowd Goes Wild below and the whole EP on Spotify by clicking here.

Bien - Crowd Goes Wild