Tracks of 2016: Round 99 – Rob’s choice

I listened to lots of new music this year. As in the last few years, Spotify was the predominant medium, opening up a range and breadth that I never could have got close to in any other way. I noted end of year reports suggesting that labels and artists are now starting to see reasonable revenues from streaming services. I don’t know whether those claims hold water, but I hope they do. I’ve dredged music from all sorts of artists who I happily listened to via Spotify where in previous times I would never have bought a record. I hope they’re getting paid.

As is also becoming traditional, looking back at my end of year list I’m forced to reflect on my sources of new music, which are becoming narrower and narrower, in a way that I’m not entirely comfortable with. I lost touch with music websites this year and also with a couple of the podcasts I used to regularly take. Looking at the final list of 13 songs here, they are essentially either from artists who I already loved and whose records I would have bought, or from things I heard on the ‘All Songs Considered‘ podcast. Fair enough, many of them are artists I hadn’t come across before, and there’s some range here, but it still feels too monocultural. The end of year lists, including those of my fellow Record Clubbers, have already sent me scurrying to a number of other records I hadn’t really noticed. I guess in this day and age it doesn’t really matter when you find something so long as you find it, but still I can’t help feeling I’ve been more blinkered than usual this year. I’ll try to diversify in 2017.

So, what did 2016 leave me with?

The Spotify playlist above differs slightly from that presented to DRC just before Christmas. I’ve added back in tracks by Lambchop, Tim Hecker and BE that I had already played and which, taken together, would have eaten more than half my permitted running time. The list is also missing at least one important contribution. ‘Lemonade’ is not available, and ‘Hold Up’ is one of my very favourite tracks of the year.

There are other absentees to note. I only got the Solange record a few weeks before the end of the year, and so it hasn’t percolated yet. Similarly, Frank Ocean’s ‘Blonde’ has not yet been released in physical format,and only just made it onto Spotify, so I’ve only managed a couple of cursory listens. There’s also a longer, working version of this list, where I dumped all the songs I wanted to collect during the year, so in the unlikely event that you’re thinking, “this list is great, but I wish it were 3 times as long and had D.D Dumbo on it,” you are in luck.

What remains. It’s tempting to group these tracks and ascribe surely unintended meaning to those groups. So I will. There are lots of songs here that use guitars and drums and voices to communicate various feelings of unease, dissatisfaction, fear and mistrust. From Naps, building a nagging chorus from arguably aspirational longueur (“Three full days without sleeping, Three full days without going out”) to Shearwater’s ‘Filaments’, pulsating with paranoia in a world that just took one step too many towards the edge. EL VY’s contribution to the anti-Trump project ’30 Days, 30 Songs’ seems much less titillating now, but I can’t erase it from my mind or my playlist.

The feeling is not solely directed towards what’s been happening in the wider world. King Creosote, Lambchop and Car Seat Headrest bring it into the personal, with hypnotic/beautiful/rollocking takes on matters of the heart, the head and their most intimate connections.

Standing atop these three is Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. The legend around ‘Skeleton Key’ is becoming well-worn, and I’m happy that some of the more breathless early analyses are being brought back towards reality.The truth of the album is even more heartbreaking and remarkable. Cave and his family were struck by an unimaginable tragedy in the time between the writing of these songs and their recording. The result, captured with mesmerising beauty in Andrew Dominik’s film ‘One More Time With Feeling’ is Cave and his collaborators moving through their grief whilst recording the songs that make up the album. If you’ve ever wondered what people mean when they describe someone ‘interpreting’ a song, watch Cave, hollowed out and stupefied, sing the songs he wrote and pour into them feelings he could never have imagined when he did so.

The album is a masterpiece. I ceded ‘Magneto’ to Steve on the night, and chose ‘Distant Sky’ instead, a song that shows at least a glow of warmth on the dark horizon.

It’s left to Lizzo, BE and Laura Gibson to show us the way out. Gibson kicked off the year by enlisting us to ‘The Cause’ of love and driving us on with the ruthless logic of a Sergeant Major. BE, improvising live to the sound of a beehive (yes, I said ‘improvising live to the sound of a beehive’), reminded us that the world could indeed be beautiful if only everyone would shut the hell up and just listen.

Finally, ‘Good As Hell’ by Lizzo, is a barnstorming wonder, a vibrant reminder that sometimes just doing your hair and checking your nails is enough to make you feel on top once more. I listened to this song dozens of dozens of times and, especially in the last 6 weeks of the year, and superficial as this will surely seem, it never failed to leave me feeling that things could get better. And that’s some achievement.

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