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.