Speakers Push Air

Albums Of The Year 2016

Things are too busy at the moment for long-winded build-ups, or posting chunks of my albums of the year list at a time, or any of that shenanigans. So here’s the whole damn lot.

(Also, whereas in recent years, I’ve only included albums I own on vinyl (when there was a vinyl release available), things are a little tighter these days so whilst I do still own far too many of these, it’s not a hard and fast rule. Otherwise, as with other years: no compilations. live albums, reissues or whatever).

It’s almost a tradition now for my top slot to be a double-header (in 2015 it was Hey Colossus’ two bangers from the same year, in 2014 it was a Delines / Bug double whammy). This year there’s another weird twist of logic. First, my favourite album of 2016:

=1) Grumbling Fur – Furfour (Thrill Jockey)


From Narc Magazine: “The ideal Furfour review would simply read ‘this is so fucking lovely it keeps making me weepy in public places’, but that’s too short. The most remarkable thing about Grumbling Fur’s Furfour is that it’s so damn gorgeous – shimmering and radiant and melodic. The second most remarkable thing is that – for a duo whose collaborative promiscuity and immersion in the esoteric would see them dominate any millennial version of England’s Hidden Reverse – it’s unquestionably a pop album. A pop album with Eno/Cale’s Spinning Away and Ultramarine’s pastoral techno at its heart (and with linking pieces referencing aliens and evolution), but pop nonetheless. You won’t hear a more rewarding and magickal album this year. I’m welling up here, man.”

=1) Stick In The Wheel – From Here (From Here)


I’ve dabbled in folk over the years – some Unthanks here, some Cath & Phil Tyler there (the folk I like is normally from the north-east) – but no folk record has ever had the impact on me that From Here has.  As my Narc live review said:

“From sparse reinventions of traditional numbers like The Blacksmith and Bows Of London, to more recent reinterpretations (Ewan MacColl’s Champion, a tribute to Nicola’s lorry-driving forebears) to their own compositions, which tackle the personal and political in a series of Shitty State Of The Nation addresses which are defiant and angry without ever being hectoring or polemical. Songs like Me And Becky, about the recent London riots, and the harrowing Common Ground (“On common ground the poisoned seed, was sown in my country, they fenced me in and took away, the things that belonged to me”) are a reminder of what folk music should be, rather than the quaint museum piece it all too often is.”

This record – and this band – have made me laugh, made me well up, made me crash my bike (whilst drunkenly yelling “goose fevver bed”). I can’t wait to see what they do next. So whilst this wasn’t a 2016 release, nothing released this year has affected me as much as From Here.

2) Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Skeleton Tree (Bad Seed Ltd)


It’s difficult to know what to say about what’s probably the most written about, pored over album of the year. While it’s not about ‘that event’, it’s still saturated with the after-effects. It’s hard to unpick the album from the backstory but I like to think that even without the immense sadness that surrounds Skeleton Tree, it would still count as a truly great Bad Seeds album.


3) eMMplekz – Rook to TN34 (Mordant Music)


From Panic & Carousels: “Similarly powerful but worlds away in almost every respect is Rook To TN34, the third and best album yet from eMMplekz that came out on Mordant Music last month (on cassette, obviously). Nick Edwards (aka Ekoplekz) joked to me that this latest collaboration with Baron Mordant was their attempt to make a Sleaford Mods album and there’s something to that. But whereas Jason Williams’ words are frenetic and bile-flecked howls of despair, Mordant’s are more bewildered and surreal, perplexed and alienated – streams of digital ephemera and soundbites and buzzwords and cultural detritus (titles like Nostalgia For Early Plugins, Guetta Life and Gloomy Leper Techno, references to Trish Keenan, David Tibet and John Frusciante).

Whilst every line of the Baron’s scrawl is deliciously quotable, a solid-state of the nation address from a tatty seaside town (the oft-referenced Hastings, “At 45 I found the place I wanted to die “), Edwards’ scree is as good as anything he’s done: ominous and unsettling, dubbed up and paranoid, glitchy and filthy. Hastings has a threatening, dubstep quality.  Painfully Teal sounds like Energy Flash with the air let out; there’s a mournful electro vibe to Gloomy Leper Techno (“cheers mate, bye… cheers, mate, bye… “), like Plone at a wake, and there’s something distinctly Martin Rev about Ancient Weather Riffs, while Hello, Mordant Music sees Edwards grinding The Baron through a Gibbytronic that’s set to maximum discombobulation. Rook To TN34 is a genuine rarity – something utterly unique and disturbing, laughing in the face of the mess we’re in, a mess we’re all so busy instagramming and hashtagging and facebooking that we don’t even know when to say stop. I really can’t recommend it enough.”


4) PJ Harvey – The Hope Six Demolition Project (Island)


Harvey’s previous ‘music as journalism’ album Let England Shake left me cold at first, it felt remote and distant (which was obviously the intention, I was just too stoopid to work out what she was up to). But when it finally fell into place, I realised how special it was and how poorly I’d understood it. No such issues with The Hope Six Demolition Project, which is angry without being didactic, musically thrilling, powerful and moving and just generally excellent. The second greatest person to come out of Dorset has done it again.

5) Handsome Family – Unseen (Loose)


From Narc: “You don’t unwrap a new Handsome Family album expecting radical reinvention. Any change is incremental (some unexpected organ here, a dobro flourish there, Jason Toth’s simpatico drums throughout). What you expect – and always get – is admission into the Sparks’ unique world; of heists gone wrong, the world’s smallest horse, slot machines and death. Gothic in the truest sense, the combination of Brett’s cavernous baritone and Rennie’s haunting words is one of the wonders of the modern age. To hear Brett harmonise with himself at the close of The Silver Light, or sing plaintively of a siren’s call on The Sea Rose, is to immerse yourself in something ‘other’, something dark and beautiful and beyond compare. Succumb.”

6) Slim Cessna’s Auto Club – The Commandments According To SCAC (SCAC Unlimited)


Perhaps the dark and disturbing world of DBUK’s 2015 album got a lot of the ‘dark and disturbing’ out of the band’s system but this year’s SCAC album was noticeably brighter, had more proper choruses and was generally a (comparatively) joyful affair. It was also – naturally – a gem. I’ve said enough about SCAC before, just take it on trust that this is the band at the top of their game. They also made it to Tyneside this year and that was something very special indeed. Interview with Slim himself here if you’re interested (and you should be, he’s a smart cookie)

07) The Frightnrs – Nothing More To Say (Daptone)

It’s been a terrible year for Daptone Records. We’ve recently lost the divine Sharon Jones, Charles Bradley has his own cancer to deal with and earlier this year Frightnrs vocalist Dan Klein died from a degenerative disease, before they could even release debut album Nothing More To Say. As legacies go, though, this is top fucking dollar: Studio One rocksteady like they don’t make any more, Klein’s gorgeous falsetto, Axelrod’s production and a perfect band and some really special songs combining to make a timeless classic.

08) Black Angel Drifter – Black Angel Drifter (Bastard Recordings)


From Narc: “Steeped in gothic country and Morricone soundtracks, Black Angel Drifter is a one-off project from Hacker and Anne of the criminally underrated Morton Valence.

Here they take the ‘urban country’ vibe of recent MV releases but head off into the desert, vultures circling and revolvers cracking. Often augmented by found sounds and concrète soundscapes the songs here are still rooted in the South London underbelly which has long been their milieu, full of lowlifes, priests and losers. A Bad Seeds, chain gang vibe permeates Sister Pain, Lead On is a drunken funeral march, a remarkable cover of Dylan’s Man In The Long Black Coat is an unexpected centrepiece and throughout it all there’s Hacker and Anne’s heart-breaking, weary duets and harmonies. Essential.”

09) The Memory Band – A Fair Field (Static Caravan)


I’ve been a Memory Band fan for a few years – they really nailed that blend of folk, electronics and hauntology but seemed to actually have more ‘folk’ in their ‘folktronica’ (ugh) than most of their peers. And so it is with A Fair Field. Some of the tracks here were commissioned for a special Supersonic Festival performance I was lucky enough to catch last year, called Children Of The Stones (cue Proustian rush). There’s field recordings and tracks that sound like 60s soundtrack jazz or like a rural Mogwai or – on Children of The Stones itself – like some crazy Age Of Aquarius-style psychedelic musical (“there are moon and stars above you…”). It’s haunting, melancholy, involving and endlessly rewarding. Gert lush.

10) Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition (Warp)


I don’t listen to enough hip hop to write about it in any especially insightful way. All I know is that Atrocity Exhibition is a headfuck. Discordant and paranoid and ugly and exciting and on tracks like Really Doe, dead fucking catchy. Whether Brown is ahead of any particular game here I don’t really know (but The Wire gave it a big thumbs up so maybe he is), I just know that in tandem with the Clipping album and a handful of others, 2016 has seen me listen to more new hip hop than I have for years.

11) Leonard Cohen – You Want It Darker (Columbia)


I don’t really have anything to say about this.

Good night. Good night.

12) Steven James Adams – Old Magick (Fortuna Pop)


Around the time this came out, I blurted something about it sounding “like a warm hug from a good friend”, which about sums it up. Adams is still probably the best songwriter (at least in the indie / guitar  / whatever genre) and we mustn’t let familiarity see him undervalued. Killer choruses and insightful lyrics and plangent melodies and all the other things that make him a national fucking treasure, with a side order of Satanism. Did an interview here.

13) Clipping – Splendor & Misery (Sub Pop)


As with the Danny Brown album at #10, I can’t speak for Clipping’s currency but I know this album sounds utterly unique to me: a space opera hip hop slavery parable full of surprising samples, pitchblack sci fi sea shanties, Afrofuturism, politics and a fuckton more. Remarkable. In fact, probably the most unusual album on the whole list.

14) Mogwai – Atomic (Rock Action)


From Narc: “There’s little instrumental ‘rock’ that can be considered ‘protest music’, but this remarkable album, featuring the reworked soundtrack to Mark Cousins’ quietly chilling film, is absolutely a protest, using mood and tonal shifts to articulate anger, defiance and fear.  Whilst Mogwai’s previous soundtrack work has been satisfying, it never felt like a ‘proper’ Mogwai project. Atomic is not only ‘proper’, it’s some of the best music they’ve ever released.

They’ve broadened their palette to include brass and even more electronic elements (appropriately enough, Kraftwerk come to mind at times), and from the sunny optimism of the opener to the mournfully elegiac closer, this is Mogwai at their most powerful and moving, wordlessly conveying the true horror of the nuclear age.”

15) Martha – Blisters In The Pit Of My Heart (Fortuna Pop)


I love Martha. So fucking much.

16) King Champion Sounds  – To Awake In That Heaven Of Freedom (Excelsior)


From Panic & Carousels: “The big news last month round these parts was a third album from the mighty King Champion Sounds, the Dutch / English collective led and masterminded by Ajay Saggar.  Like its predecessors,  To Awake In That Heaven Of Freedom is essentially a distillation of Jah Saggar’s preoccupations – dub, punk, jazz, kosmische and of course, towering above it all, Das Gruppe. It shares a lot of its sound with the other releases – those driving basslines and solid rhythms,  GW Sok’s urgent, gnomic lyrics, the flailing guitars and frantic brass arrangements – but it’s just MORE,  and not just in length. There’s also a ridiculous guest list here – vocal turns from the likes of Mick Derrick (Prolapse), Mike Watt (Minutemen) and Alasdair Roberts and guitar from J Mascis (Dinosaur Jr) and Tom Carter (Charalambides). Between the relentless Mice Rats And Roaches to the abstract closer Baarsiderius II, the album covers wildly diverse styles without ever appearing unfocused or arbitrary. To Awake In That Heaven Of Freedom feels like the culmination of the project somehow, but I really hope that’s not the case.”

17) Rob Heron & The Tea Pad Orchestra – Something Blue (Tea Pad Records)


Anything I say about this album will be drunkenly quoted at me in the local so I’m saying nothing. It’s probably their best yet, though.

=18) Preston Field Audio – Rhythm Tree Fell  / Portland Vows – Living With Animals (Concrete)

Adapted from Panic & Carousels:  “Preston’s Concrète Tapes label has been doing some fine work of late (often with some lovingly assembled packaging). Rhythm Tree Fell by Preston Field Audio has been getting some great notices, especially for its first side – four versions of an achingly plaintive melody line, utilising voices, piano and – most affectingly – a brass band. Side two is more varied – field recordings from around the town interspersed with bursts of music, what sounds like a drum circle and, on closer Café Daydream, the background noises of said café giving way to a luminous melody. It’s enough to make Preston seem appealing.

But the pick of the bunch is Living With Animals by Portland Vows (aka Bob Plant, an electronic musician and Aberdeen University philosopher). Each track on this remarkable album takes a simple melodic motif and creates something aching and magical and minimal, calling to mind everything from Plone to Martin Rev to Mogwai’s more reflective moments. Living With Animals might be the best argument yet from getting your old Akai out of the loft. You can get it here and the rest of the label’s releases here.”

There have been further great releases already, but somehow these two stand out, and feel of a piece, which is why they’re included together.

19) Kemper Norton – Toll (Front & Follow)

From Panic & Carousels: “After so much glorious noise, it’s surely time for some Kemper Norton.  Kemper seems to have been around forever but Toll is only his / their third album proper, and the second for the endlessly reliable Front & Follow label. There’s always more going on with a Kemper release than is immediately apparent – timeslips and landscapes and invocations – but on Toll the background is more explicit: the sinking of the Torrey Canyon oil tanker off the coast of Kemper’s native Cornwall in 1967. Using his trademark blend of unsettling soundscapes, melancholy electronica and sweetly simple folk song, Kemper explores the incident and its resonances and comes up with one of the most truly original albums of the year. This is headphone music, to be absorbed in one hit and then pondered over as its effect lingers.”

20) Bruxa Maria – Human Condition (Extreme Ultimate)

From Panic & Carousels: “Ah, Bruxa Maria. I’ve been rinsing their album since I first heard it a few weeks back. Human Condition is out on Necro Deathmort’s Extreme Ultimate label and it’ll take your face off.  This is abrasive, ugly / beautiful hardcore punk but rich with grinding, industrial textures,

full tilt and furious and with frontwoman Gill Dread coming on like a righteous feminist demon (miles away from her day job as the endlessly sweet and patient tour van driver to the elegantly wasted likes of Hey Colossus and Luminous Bodies).  Next time somebody starts banging on about Savages, play them Drunken Arab… This is some powerful medicine, friends.”

21) Sex Swing – Sex Swing (Quietus)


I still haven’t written up my review of this for the Panic & Carousels column so for now let’s just agree it’s fantastically brutal and wonderfully sludgy and well worth the wait.

There’s also no video I can find. YOU try searching for ‘sex swing’ on youtube and tell me how you get on.

22) Screamin’ Miss Jackson & The Slap Ya Mama Big Band – I Heard The Voice Of A Donut (Little Paradise Records)


In which my favourite bunch of Bristolians in years make an excellent album that showcases their unique blend of string band, jazz, blues, folk and country and they all sing like a dream and play like bosses and you can HEAR April’s smile. Just perfect good time music.

23) Felice Brothers – Life In The Dark (Yep Roc)

From Narc: “After some detours of late, it’s good to see The Felice Brothers return to what they’re best at – country folk with fire in its belly and a knack for songs that sound fresh and ancient all once. Their best in a long while, Life In The Dark still has a couple of ballads that drift by somewhat, but there are some gems here: opener Aerosol Ball, driven by wheezy accordion and fiddle, has been an incessant earworm for days, while Plunder is a rollicking country rock stomper with a mid-70s Dylan vibe and Sally! is an all-too-brief shitkicker. Diamond Bell is the centrepiece, channelling Desire-era Dylan again on a plaintive paean to a legendary gunslinger. This’ll sound great on your truck’s stereo.”

24) Future Of The Left – The Peace & Truth Of Future Of The Left (Prescription)


Probably their fiercest and most intense yet, which is saying something. It’s all the things FOTL do so well (and so much better than the rest): acerbic, witty, brutal, melodic, lurching, bass-driven and furious.

25) Chivalrous Amoekons –  Fanatic Voyage (Drag City)


In which Will Oldham and Angel Olson and various other American musicians interpret the storied Mekons back catalogue and find themselves singing about Tony Benn and Muggletonians and whatever the hell else and it’s just great somehow.

26) Casual Nun – Super Fancy Skeleton (Hominid Sounds)


From Panic & Carousels: “Casual Nun were one of the highlights of this year’s Supernormal Festival (from a bill that is, after all, mostly highlights) and their debut Super Fancy Skeleton is a beast. There’s blistering psych blues on opener Green Tea and a menacing workout for the double-drummers on ûûû, and two lengthy (but never overlong) tracks – Keizoku Wa Chikara Nari and Sacrifice – that really kick your ass, blasted and psychedelic (in the proper sense of the term) but never losing track of the riff, the rhythm, the rock!”

27) Ulver – ATGCLVLSSCAP (House of Mythology)

From Panic & Carousels: “Everything about this album set my alarm bells ringing like those at the beginning of England’s Hidden – from the astrologically inclined title to the undeniably prog elements and beyond – but sometimes you just have to go with it. ATGCLVLSSCAP is powerful medicine, friends – a bewildering, transcendent journey to wherever the fuck. There’s drones to lose yourself in, percussion workouts to freak out to, hash pipe Orientalism, something dangerously close to a power ballad with Nowhere (Sweet Sixteen) and the odd tip of the hat to their metal roots (still, Bergtatt this ain’t). And then there’s Cromagnosis, a ten-minute epic that moves from bass throb to a kind of cop show spacefunk to an exhilarating climax. None of this should work, none of it really makes any sense, but ATGCLVLSSCAP is one of the most thrilling and involving albums I’ve heard in quite a while.”

28) Girl Sweat – Bad Happenings (Box Records)

From Panic & Carousels: “If you read my recent interview in NARC. magazine with Girl Sweat (aka Sweat, aka Russell) you’ll know how much I loved his recent, debut album Bad Happenings (out now on the increasingly essential local label Box Records). As he explained, it’s an album of two halves – a set of songs originally written for a band (who all left because he’s ‘an arsehole’), and the rest just for Sweat and his tottering pile of malfunctioning machines. It’s one of the most gloriously fucked up albums I’ve heard in an age – everything in the red, mired in lysergic filth, while Sweat testifies and goads over the top. Some of it could almost be garage rock, if the garage in question was where the Manson Family kept their dune buggies, whereas Rivers Of Hair is 10 minutes of disgusting, disorientating noise and sonic assault. It ain’t pretty but it is essential.”

29) Rattle – Rattle (I Own You / Upset The Rhythm)

From Narc: “The debut album from Rattle – the Nottingham-based duo featuring Katherine and Theresa (of Kogumaza and Fists respectively) is an object lesson in ‘less is more’. This album – which has been a long time coming – consists of nothing more than two drum kits (and percussion) and two voices, yet there is magic here. Crucially this isn’t some ‘Dave Grohl vs Animal from the Muppets’ paradiddle wankfest – some of the drumming here sounds tentative rather than funky, considered rather than bombastic. And their voices are equally low key, somehow recalling Ari Up at times, Bjork at others. The recording is intimate – like you’re intruding on a private conversation played out in snare snaps and wordless vocals – and the end product is utterly hypnotic.”

=30) Melting Hand – High Collider (Hominid Sounds) /
Terminal Cheesecake – Dandelion Sauce Of The Ancients (Box Records)

https://f4.bcbits.com/img/a0886389716_10.jpg    https://i1.wp.com/cdn.theobelisk.net/obelisk/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/terminal-cheesecake-dandelion-sauce-of-the-ancients.jpg

These two just belong together, and not just because their line-up overlaps substantially.

From Panic & Carousels: “Melting Hand are one of those increasingly frequent supergroups that all seem to form in the Supernormal Red Kite bar (and all seem to feature Gordon Watson). Here he’s joined by fellow Cheesecake Russ Smith, Tyneside behemoth Mike Vest and Tom Fug (Gum Takes Tooth / Luminous Bodies), and debut album Highcollider sounds exactly as you might expect – which is in no way a criticism: huge riffs, cavernous rolling rhythms, a collision of Blown Out-style space rock and Cheesecake-style fucked-upness. Highly recommended.”

The Terminal Cheesecake review hasn’t gone up on the Panic column yet. Let’s just say they’re not fucking about and it’s great to have them back.

And here are some of the other albums that really impressed me this year. There are people in this list who were much higher in previous years. This doesn’t meant their new releases aren’t as good, it just means that the ones in the main top 30 hit me hardest in 2016, for whatever reason.

65 Dollar Bill  / Anohni    / Automatisme   / Beyonce   / Bitchin’ Bajas & Bonnie Prince Billy   / Blown Out   / Case Lang Veirs  / Cavern Of Anti-Matter   / Charlie Parr   / Colin Stetson   / Dalek  / Daniel Romano   / Death Pedals   / Dinosaur Jr  / Eli ‘Paperboy’ Reed   / Ex-Easter Island Head  / Exploded View   / Frank Ocean   / Freakwater  / Hen Ogledd  / Howe Gelb   / Jenny Hval   / Josephine Foster   / KHUNNT  / Kid Congo Powers & The Pink Monkey Birds  / Kikagaku Moyo  / Margo Price   / Marissa Nadler  / Matmos   / Mavis Staples  / Melt Yourself Down   / Mugstar    / Nissenenmondai  / Orkesta Mendoza   / Our Head Technician  / Owen Ambarchi   / Palehorse   / Parker Millsap   / Parquet Courts   / Pye Corner Audio   / Quantic and Flowering Inferno  / Rangda  / Robbie Fulks  / Skepta   / Steve Gunn   / Swans   / The Body   / The Caretaker / The Comet Is Coming   / Tim Hecker   / Unruly Milk  / Waco Brothers  / Wilco / Wire

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