Tracksuite - Best of 2018 so far.

If you enjoyed the 'Best of 2018 so far' show last week but would quite like to continue listening to the tracks without my chattering in amongst, then here you go - in pure playlist form. (If you haven't heard yet, just go to the Live page and do so). Couple of changes due to availability; Leon III is now in with the brilliant 'Between the Saddle and The Ground' from his debut self titled album. As are Zeal & Ardor with Row Row from their epic album 'Stranger Fruit'. and lastly but not leastly, The Maple State with 'Something in the Water' from the album 'Things I Heard at The Party'. Tuck in.

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Tracksuite's Best Albums of 2017

 

Tracksuite’s album of the year is this.

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The Yawpers – Boy In A Well. But I’ll come back to that.

Arca – Arca

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Not much was floating my boat in the early months of this year at all. Until April, when Venezuelan producer Alejandro Ghersi released his third album, the  self titled Arca. I just couldn’t grasp his first two albums, Xen and Mutant (although fascinating and mind blowing) as any kind of 'whole' projects, but Arca the album is a wholly different beast. Where the others were overloaded platters of glitch and electronic clutter, this is choral and expansive, still electronic in foundation but creating beauty in the space. Ghersi was heavily involved in production and writing on the last two Bjork projects Vulnicura and Utopia and the influence the artists have had on each other is clear to see in their individual works. Where Bjork’s albums have left me cold, Arca exudes a kind of spiritual warmth. Despite being rooted in a dark place, it is powerful and uplifting. On vocal tracks, it is an almost religious experience. 

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Also in April came another self-titled album with more new interesting sounds and flavours. This debut, from Baltimore raised but now Hamburg based Sophia Kennedy, is released on the Hamburg house and techno label Pampa Records and utterly disarms you right from the start as it’s so far from what you’d expect from that label. Yes, you can hear the contemporary likeness with acts like Tune Yards and St. Vincent but, for me, I hear a seventies sound influenced by the clever wordplay, wit and playfulness of people like Dean Friedman, Louden Wainwright III, Kate Bush and Warren Zevon. The songs are equally bewildering and joyously simple in the way that I hear the best alternative pop (and also comedy) from that era, a time that appeared to be reacting to the extremes of politicisation and psychedelia from the previous decade. Opener Build Me A House could be a nod to the usual house music of the label as the name suggests, it builds and sounds like its going to break - but never does – and doesn’t need to. Stall set out and listener ears unsettled, Kennedy proceeds with a selection of brilliantly eclectic gems.

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Towards the end of the summer there was very suddenly a lot of attention, chat and air time being given to a new reggae outfit called The Hempolics ahead of the release of their debut album Kiss, Cuddle and Torture Vol. 1 due out in September. Now, if an amount of people start calling someone the next big thing I tend to shut that option down just as a reflex. But I also took an immediate dislike to the moniker of ‘Hempolics’, a grating portmanteau reminiscent of posturing 90s hip hop outfits aimed at the teenage masses. And the artwork just seemed a rushed fit for the ‘radio friendly reggae roots unit shifter’ I took this band to be.

Then I heard the music.

It absolutely rootsed my socks off. It sounded nothing like the package it was presented in and I got knocked upside the head with the book which I had just judged the cover of. Still the name and presentation didn’t fit for me but I was now the one talking them up as the next big thing too. Ok, yes it is a polished sound and yes it’s radio friendly but that’s more down to the time and work that the band’s leader Grippa Laybourne has spent honing the project than a specific straight-to-radio production ethic. These tracks feel simultaneously joyously easy and yet time still evidently taken to create perfection. My fave is Me Love To Sing, a chunky reggae groover that will work on any dancefloor, festival stage or bedroom speaker. They strip it right back to a genuine roots feel on the likes of Warrior Sound and switch to a Massive Attack sound on Armed & Dangerous, brilliantly featuring the mighty vocal talents of Cojack and Paulo Nutini. They then throw open the big beats, builds and breaks for the excellent In My Brain featuring the inimitable vocal technique of Maxi Jazz.

All Killa.

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Formerly known as Lynched, the band have changed their name to  Lankum (after a child murdering villain from a ballad sung by an Irish traveller recorded in the early 70s). This feels like a far more suitable moniker for those that make this sound.   Having tilled the soil and prepared the ground with the incredible Lynched album Cold Old Fire from 2014, this album from Lankum ‘Beneath the Earth and Sky’ came along in October and is a glorious new harvest.  It's raw and visceral, dark and foreboding folk music that seems to grow from the earth in front of your ears. The backbone of the greatest tracks is the drone and I can't explain why that’s a good thing so you’ll have to trust me, it is. They produce this insistent tonal sound through their stuff, reminiscent of throat singing, that feels like mother nature herself guiding the music with a maternal hand. The first time I heard the opener ‘What Will We Do When We Have No Money’, I got goosebumps on my skin and I cried. Now sometimes that happens, when the music is so good and possibly I’ve nursed a whisky  or two beforehand. However, I’ve listened to it many times since in complete sobriety and it's happened every single time. So that’s something.  

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In the same month (what an October that was), Denver based three piece The Yawpers released the incredible Boy in a Well, their second album on Bloodshot Records after their self released first album Capon Crusade and sophomore album American Man. Both of these were solid works of alt country rock n roll with memorable numbers like Silicone Love and Doing It Right but I hope they won't mind me saying that the maturity of approach and step up in songwriting class on Boy in a Well is quite something to experience. It’s structured as a concept album about an abandoned boy in France in World War I, and is a truly consistent, beautifully eclectic piece of musical craft, the like of which is very rare to my ears and so damn joyous when it comes around.

The band are apparently named after a line from a Walt Whitman poem that reads “I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world”, and I can certainly advocate the fittingness of that for the majority of early work and still some parts of this album but it doesn’t do them justice anymore. Lead yawper Nate Cook is extremely capable of a barbaric scream comparable to Bon Scott and Brian Johnson when he wants, but the majority of the time he strips it back and controls it incredibly, even reminding me of my two favourite vocalists at times: Maynard James Keenan and Will Oldham. Hell, there’s even honey coated Elvis tones in there, but they could come from the harmonies of slide player Jesse Parmet, I'm not sure. Together with Noah Shomberg on drums, these guys have crafted a ride through an almost prog country soundtrack of heart wrenching blues, blazing rockabilly and seething punk psych, forging the sound of expansive Rock n Roll in freakout.

I also want to mention these:

Trio Da Kali & Kronos Quartet - Ladilikan

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 So, that’s what I got. Tracksuite 2017 selection – now scroll on for the 50 Best Tracks of the Year playlist, if you haven’t already.

 

 

Tracksuite's 50 Best Tracks of 2017

Ok, here we go ‘round again – its time for Tracksuite’s Best of 2017 various.

Apologies in advance but for some reasons I’m gonna have to go with less words this year and just make up for this with more music. Last year I think I started with my best albums so in an attempt to keep things fresh with frighteningly few options available to do so then I’ve gone with best tracks first this year (Boom! –I know right.) Ok, 50 tracks I got. Yes – 50. To balance up the 25 track mix from the first half of 2017, which of course you all caught. In playlist form. On Spotify. Availability, you understand.

Now I could chat it up and analyse the choices to tedious end, tell you my favourites and why etc but in this case let’s just leave it to your highly discerning ears.

Feed Your Head.

Stay ‘Suite. Best Albums of 2017 up next…

The SAY Award 2017

This evening, the Say Award judging panel reconvene for the final time this year amongst the pomp and glitz of ceremony at Paisley Town Hall to pick a winning Scottish album of the year. Here's Tracksuite's select playlist from the shortlisted 10.

Best Tracks of 2016

Its ok guys, we’re nearly through it – the blundering nightmare that has been 2016 is nearly at an end. All there is left to do is check out Tracksuite’s Best Tracks of 2016 list, so here it is.  And it’s pretty healthy actually.  Despite this year being the carnivorous legend-eating monster that it has been, some pretty amazing music has still managed to be made. Some greats of the fairly recent past in the shape of A Tribe Called Quest, DJ Shadow and The Avalanches have survived the Reaper and returned in time and on form to serve up some of the greatest hip hop treats I’ve heard in some years. Some fresh faced upstarts have shown they’re ready to fill the gaps left by this years tragic losses; Car Seat Headrest’s mature yet utterly exciting sound is perhaps my most listened to of the year, Lucy Dacus has mastered her craft early, the first full length from Jubilee is a hell of a trip and late entry for me She Drew The Gun are mesmerizing. Still riding the storm like the pros they are, the likes of Lake Street Dive, You Won’t, Moderat and Eleanor Friedberger are all bringing in the catch with brilliant tracks as always.  

I hope you all got a chance to check out my Best Albums of 2016 blog too. Eight albums in all. Which I know doesn’t seem like much compared to other sites splurting out their Top twenty and even sometimes Top fifty best albums of the year, but that’s simply ridiculous now isn’t it? The idea that there are actually fifty (even twenty infact) genuinely ‘brilliant as a whole album’ albums released this calendar year is something I just cant get my head around. I had only four in my list from last year so to have doubled that this year I’m pretty pleased with. Anyway, each of those is well worth some quality listening time for those still with a penchant for the full album journey but if not or if you just fancy a tasty sampler playlist first then you’re in the right place.

So here you are, two ‘best of’ mixes in YouTube and Spotify, they differ slightly due to availability but, hoorah, that just means more tunes.

Headphones on. Turn it up. Pour yourself a drop and enjoy The Best of 2016.

 

Here’s to your Happy Christmas and far improved 2017

Love and quality music

Tracksuite.

Best Albums of 2016

Sorry, but there is no stand out album for me from 2016. For those of you who have read my blogged opinions on album awards before, you’ll know I don’t take lightly their commendation. There was one album last year that was an unshakably perfect complete piece of work in my opinion. See Best of 2015 blog for details of that and others that came close. But this year, no clear, all killer winner to accord singling out by me. There are, of course, a bunch of albums that come close and sit equally amongst each other as extraordinary pieces of work that are well worth a mention. Eight of them infact.

So in no relevant order

Misty Miller – The Whole Family is Worried

Released in April, the majority of this collection of bolshie, melodrama from London scenester Misty Miller is highly infectious scuzz pop perfection. A couple of tracks fall away, you can decide which ones for yourself, but never to the detriment of the whole project. Highlights are Happy (The opening track from the album aswell as of my debut Radio show in October and also of my upcoming Best tracks of 2016 list), Girlfriend and penultimate track Next To You continues to grow in ear worming strength. It’s nothing new, it’s not trying to be clever – it’s just a young girls raw hurt worn like her tattoos on her sleeve and she gets her hooks in. 

You Won’t – Revolutionaries

Also released in April, ‘Revolutionaries’ is the 2nd long player from two-man outfit You Won’t from Lexington, Massachusetts who are paying tribute with the title of the album to their hometown’s history as the site of the first battle of the American Revolution. Seamlessly following on from their debut in 2012, this is clever (but not too clever) indie rock music with brilliant self produced folk music edges featuring bagpipes and singing saw and crafted classical undertones throughout. I’ll pick out these three songs, Ya Ya Ya, The Fuzz and Jesus Sings for you, but just play it from the beginning and enjoy the journey through this beautifully woven musical tapestry.

Car Seat Headrest - Teens of Denial

Released in May. Will Toledo as Car Seat Headrest serves up a rambling, abstract and unstructured record that on first listen doesn’t sound in the least bit so, it just instantly grabs you by the senses and draws you in. Its like nothing ive heard before certainly. Deliberately, I think, attempting to convey a consistent feel of drug fuelled, pubescent, confused paranoia and euphoria, Will's incredible voice echoes greats from the past and beyond his years while never once diverting from his teen subjects, just adding depth and sincerity to his lyrical genius. I’ve got Unforgiving Girl (She’s Not An) in my Best Tracks of 2016 list, its awkward romanticism is so real you want to scream like he does. Equally brilliant are Vincent and (Joe Gets Kicked Out of School for Using) Drugs With Friends (But Says This Isn't a Problem).

Jubilee - After Hours

Stunning little set of diverse electronic pieces from Miami born, New York based producer Jessica Gentile as Jubilee. Beautiful downbeat opener Spring Break lulls you into thinking you’ve got this album quickly pegged as being like a thousand other half beat glitz pop releases over the last few years but you would be very wrong. As each diversely brilliant track changes, it just keeps moving up gears through Detroit, dancehall, techno, trap and onwards, joyously surprising with every new gem of a tune. For your particular attention if you wish: Wine Up, Bass Supply and Sawgrass Expressway but I highly recommend the full trip.

A Tribe Called Quest – We Got It From Here, Thank You 4 Your Service

Well it finally came. After 18 years of rumours and whispers the sixth, latest and possibly final album from Queens New York’s own Hip Hop gods A Tribe Called Quest arrived this year and it by far lives up to the wait and expectation. It feels undoubtedly like Tribe of old on top form but crucially it feels like now, like 2016. In the context of the genre, these are old men but they are demonstrating the strength of experience and status to allow time for quality control. I can pick out tracks here but I cant stress enough how much this works as a whole in flow like the best of ATCQ albums. It’s a suite of music that rolls and pitches perfectly with social commentary wrapped in sumptuous beats, rhymes and rhythms.

Moderat – III

Electronic musical spectre opposites Modeselektor and Apparat, that make up Moderat, have finally found the perfect blend on their third album. Yes, there was brilliance in parts on both the first albums but this just feels like they’ve cracked it. It’s a luscious, honey coated complete work of awesome beat driven songs. Yes, the production is amazing but the edge here and always for me is the crafted songs on top of that. The opener Eating Hooks makes you sit and listen but then as it soars through the rich gloriousness of Ghostmother and Intruder then you wont stay seated for long.

Lisa Hannigan - At Swim

One of the best things that can ever happen to me when listening to music is to have my inner cynic instantly silenced by the sheer simple beauty of something. And so with Dublin’s Lisa Hannigan, while waiting for the usual washy breathless songstress fare of old, I found myself melting into the ghostly astonishing beauty of At Swim. She really has come a million miles since playing second fiddle to her then beau Damien Rice over 10 years ago. Now firmly established in her own right, At Swim is an incredibly assured piece of work. These songs are masterly crafted, folk tinged gems. Harmonies that are often gorgeously choral, sometimes epic but everytime so delicately delivered with depth and undercurrents that pull you down without a fight. The heart tearing beauty of Prayer for The Dying gets in deep and you welcome it. Opener Fall is perfect. And later highlights Anahorish and Funeral Suit leave you breathless till well after the albums finished.

Songs of Separation: Reflections on the Parting of Ways

Songs of Separation is a project conjured and brought together by musician Jenny Hill in the weeks before the Scottish Independence vote, bringing together ten female folk musicians from Scotland and England to, in Jennys words, ‘“create a recording which reflects on the issue of ‘separation’ in its many forms, through traditional song”. A startling album that is more than worthy, not only for inclusion in the shortlist for Folk Album of the Year but, where possible, every Best of the Year shortlist. I’m certainly no devoted folky. I have an appreciation of it certainly but the power of songs like Unst Boat Song and London Lights will cut through any classification and genre separatism. All the songs, granted, are given a sense of collective unison by being all performed and recorded live on the Island of Eigg in the natural acoustic ambience of Cathedral Cave – a place of enormous cultural import and beauty. But, this aside, Songs of Separation is an impeccably curated assembly of the music of a like minded collective of women working in dazzling harmony together.

So there you are, those are Tracksuite’s album choices of the year – now go and fill your stockings.

Mercury Prize 2016

Once again, its time for the Mercs.  Hard to believe tonight’s shindig is the 25th birthday of Britain’s premier muso competition, but yes indeed folks, the Mercury Music Prize has been dishing out cash and adoration to the ‘best’ of British music for a quarter of a century now.

For some context to kids experiencing this first time or those heavy hibernators among us, previous winners include; Portishead, Pulp, Gomez, PJ Harvey (twice) and James Blake.  Some thrive in greatness, some are remembered fondly and some forgotten before they exited stage left at the ceremony.  Among the shortlist this year are exciting unknowns, Radiohead, boundary pushing experimentalists Bat for Lashes and The 1975, genre defying hardcore crossover acts, Jamie Woon and Michael Kiwanuka, and the late honourable Sir King David Bowie.

Sadly missing from the shortlist, in Tracksuite’s humble opinion (official processes of competition read, understood and set aside for now) is James Blake with ‘The Colour in Anything’.  Surely if Polly can get two gongs then James can?  Also Misty Miller with ‘The Whole Family is Worried’ for it is no less than indie pop scuzz perfection.  Steve Mason and ‘Meet The Humans’ is also deserving of recognition.  Rival Consoles album ‘Howl’ is sublime and ‘Levitate’ by Lone is just retro glorious.

Like I said in recent blog post about the SAY Award, not only should the folk ensemble masterpiece ‘Songs of Separation’ have been included in the shortlist but arguably should have just won the thing outright.  And it’s no different here.  I don’t see any inclusivity of folk music in this shortlist.  I don’t see much inclusivity whatsoever.  Aside from the brilliance of The Comet is Coming, there is a laughable lack of diversity here with 11 of the finalists already enjoying a plethora of mainstream radio play.  What is being recognised here?  Gone are the genre pushing experimentalist acts that we’ve seen nominated in previous years.  Even the newly introduced Finalists phase, within which fans are given the chance to vote 1 act of 12 into a final shortlisted 6, is doing very little to change that.

So, see for yourselves and make your own mind up below, as Tracksuite selects a Best of the Mercs.

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TrackOneSuite

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With any encounter, new or old, there is a moment, a beat, before anything happens.  A pause for formality, or gathering of thought, dictated by history and chemistry and circumstance.

That moment in time, acknowledged so briefly and pushed out of the way or wrapped around you as protective shield to keep safely within, as you edge slowly forward to interaction.

But it is always there and it has a purpose. It exists as a bridge of time,  from one place to another, real or entirely within the imagination.

 

And so it is with ‘Track One’.  That first song that greets the listener before taking them somewhere else. Arguably the most important track on any mix, the first step on any new musical journey. Some would say it is simply the opening act to masterpieces coming later, and the old adage tells us never to judge the book by its cover, but we do.  It’s a fundamental characteristic of being human. Any interview panel will make their mind up about a person long before the first official question has been asked. The smile, the clothes, a limp or firm handshake, the cut of a suit, the flash of the eye. Whether it’s the confidence of gait or the ‘on trend’ shoes there are but a few seconds to have positive influence on those who regard what they encounter as a prospect.  

 

I believe in the statement of intent that an opening track must make. I don’t think it needs to shave and wear a suit, beauty comes in all forms. It simply has to be honest and confident. Like a keen suitor waiting at the door to take your first born child out on their first date, trust must be earned quickly.

 

So allow me then to fix my hair, wipe the sweat from my hands, steady myself and attempt to impress with a selection of favourite ‘Track One’s past and present.

 

By ‘Track One’, I don’t mean all these tracks are the opening tracks to albums,  that would just be a little too easy. And more importantly, the best Track One options are often not found there. But as with Major Lazer’s ‘Get Free’, Connie Francis’ ‘Siboney’ and ‘The Atuwaba’ by Tony Allen, they possibly belong there. Some are Track Ones and deserve to remain so.  The near forgotten wonder of ‘Silent Passage’ by Bob CarpenterLindi Ortega's beautifully sinister 'Murder of Crows'.  Mostly though, these little gems, these Playlister Treats, are tracks that have that special something intrinsic in their essence that says, ‘This is where it starts, come with me’.

 

How to do a playlist made up entirely of Track Ones? It’s surely contrary to the point? Well, Playlisting is what Tracksuite does and you, dear listener, deserve the best of both worlds. Hell, the music’s just too good.

Best Tracks of 2015

Crikey, it gets a little bit addictive this Best Things of the Year stuff, both from a creator and consumer point of view. I have had a genuinely good rattle through every possible Best Album, Best Track, Best Film, Best Jumper list I can find and I still feel the need to keep looking. Not entirely sure what for though, maybe just the simple constant affirmation that people need favourites lists as much as me. As Nick Hornby said in High Fidelity (the mixtape makers bible), “What really matters is what you like, not what you are like”. Not sure what that says about me so lets skim over it and concentrate on the music.

So far, I’ve only published a little Best Album of 2015 list of my own and even that included just four albums, so if in the world there can be allowed to exist a ‘Best Pet Names of the Year’ list and a ‘Best Political Debates of 2015’ list, I think I can indulge myself in listing my favourite tracks of 2015 too. We are Tracksuite, after all.  And it is Christmas.