We are halfway through 2016 but you'd be forgiven for thinking that we're further in – it has been a roller-coaster of a year so far. In amongst the non-stop throttle of crazy news stories and a seemingly endless supply of celebrity deaths to mourn, we've actually had a phenomenal dose of new music to gorge upon. We invited our writers to offer us a shortlist – a favourite album of 2016 that they have reviewed for us, a favourite live show in Brighton they have attended and a favourite album that we somehow missed! Here's what they had to say…
Favourite Album We Reviewed: PJ Harvey – Hope Street Demolition Project
Now in her fourties and reflective of the increasingly discernible re-politicisation of musicians, our Queen of alt-indie decidely ditched the body politic for more worldly concerns, social and political in nature, for her 11th studio album. Moving on from the Mercury winning Let England Shake, this album represents an at times poetic, and at other times reportage view of life, most obviously with the Hope VI project in Washington DC, which she bore witness to.
Recorded in a makeshift studio deep under Somerset House, sessions which 3,000 people were allowed to witness 45 minutes of, Harvey was again re-inventing herself as both an artist and as a style icon. Her acute grasp of image and presentation continues to go hand-in-hand with the raw and visceral sound, a music and lyricism that is both fearless and intelligent. Above all it is honest and passionate.
Favourite Album We Missed: Parquet Courts – Human Perfomance
Taking their cues from the likes of post-punkers Wire and Pavement, America's prolific, and increasingly popular DIYers have this knack for creating a strong melody, allied to rocking rhythms, within the seemingly tired old format of lo-fi punkish guitars, bass and drums. When less is more, they will sometimes sneak up on you with an experimental edge that shouldn't work, but it almost invariably does, their songs often giving way to bursts of noise and cacophony, or a deliberately lo-fi solo. And via their vaguely droning David Byrnesque vocals, there is a keen intelligence at work, harking back to those glory post-punk days when the music was often matched by meaningful words, with a little bit of honest angst, controlled anger and/or surreal humour thrown in for good measure. Elemental their music may well be, but Parquet Courts are serious artists making seriously good music.
Favourite Brighton Gig: Steve Mason – Concorde 2
Not noted for being the greatest of live entertainers, there was nevertheless something magical about this ex-Beta Band singer and songwriter performing in his newly-adopted home of Brighton, somehow surviving the increasingly financially vicious music industry. Why? Because with the accompanying album Meet The Humans, Mason was finally able to throw off the shackles that has tormented him for many years. A man prone to deep depression, his deeply left-wing/alternative politics had threatened to turn him into the archetypal bitter and angry man down the pub, albeit tinged with an acerbic undertow that helped to keep the good ship Mason buoyant. There's a real warmth and humanity to the album, translated to the live stage where Mason and band (including old mucker Steve Duffield on bass) get all jiggy by the end with the old school dance euphoria of 'Words In My Head'. The gig is also helped by the fact that the new album contains a load of top notch compositions, delivered in his typically hazy, slow-shuffle way.
Favourite Album We Reviewed: Brian Eno – The Ship
Brian Eno certainly isn’t a new name in music, in fact he is very much verging on veteran status in the industry. Admittedly, I hadn’t given myself time to explore this musical legends catalogue prior to this album, partly due to the time Eno’s music rightly demands you give it. However, thankfully April saw the release of his 27th solo album, The Ship, giving me the chance to fully get to grips with the man who created the Ambient genre. Starting out as the synthesizer player in Roxy Music and then going on to make music with the likes of Talking Heads, John Cale and David Bowie; Eno had his solo break with the seminal LP Music For Airports (1978). The Ship certainly sits high, aside the very best of his work, throwing up interesting and innovative ideas across the four-track album. Throughout its 48-minute duration you are transported away from our topsy-turvy society and into Eno’s calming yet sometimes chilling voyage across an ambient soundscape.
Favourite Album We Missed: Kaytranada – 99.9%
Kaytranada (aka Louis Kevin Celestin) typifies modern music – a bedroom producer who started out by putting his music up on Soundcloud and mustered a strong following just through the power of word of mouth. The Haiti born 23-year-old, who was raised and is still based in Montreal, began DJ’ing at the age of 14 and soon went on to release a string of EPs and beat tapes which started his explosive rise to being one of the world’s most exciting electronic producers. With an album which has been delayed since 2014, it's fair to say that his debut LP had been swamped in a mammoth amount of hype – but my word, has Celestin pulled it off! 99.9% not only features guest spots from the likes of Little Dragon, Craig David, Anderson .Paak, Vic Mensa, AlunaGeorge and BADBADNOTGOOD, Celestin mixes Dilla-like beats with bang-up-to-date pop swagger over the 15-track genre hopping “debut of the year”! More like 100% than 99.9%.
Favourite Brighton Gig: Floating Points – Brighton Dome
A gig I touted to be the best show I would ever see on the Brightonsfinest's Radio Reverb slot on the King Provider show – a silly statement to say out loud, let alone to the tens of thousands of listeners that tune in each week. In short. It was phenomenal! As part of the Brighton Festival, guest curator Lorrie Anderson brought in a twelve-person strong Floating Points as well as Dave Okumu with his fantastic The Invisible outfit as support to the Brighton Dome. Sam Shepherd (the man behind Floating Points) originally came to prominence as a DJ, being world renowned for his song selections and releasing some of the most forward thinking electronic tracks around. The end of 2015 saw Shepherd release the incredibly ambitious Elaenia, his debut album and what he played in its entirety. A cliché I know, but never has a gig gone so fast – it was intense, hypnotic, delicate and monstrous. Please commit yourself to watching this video of the recently-released 18-minute epic, ‘Kuiper’, and see how unique this project is.
Favourite Album We Missed: Muncie Girls – From Caplan to Belsize
Forget about that embarrassing Blink 182 reunion, pop punk is in the middle of a goddamn renaissance at the moment. Pup’s The Dream is Over, The Hotelier’s Goodness and Modern Baseball’s Holy Ghost rank among the years best records. They hark back to when ‘emo’ meant emotionally raw and melodic hardcore punk and not pantomime rock complimented by eyeliner.
On this side of the Atlantic, Muncie Girls are carrying the torch for this new wave with their socially conscious debut From Caplan to Belsize. The album tackles feminist theory and compacts the concepts into sing-a-long power pop that drives their message home as hard and fast as a gut punch. Most importantly this is music that gives people who belong nowhere a place to belong. (Check out our live review of the band at Sticky Mike's)
Favourite Album We Reviewed: Mitski – Puberty 2
The validity of the album is in a constant state of crisis. Forever on the brink of becoming an irrelevant art form in a world of streaming, curated playlists and mixes. Only to be brought back from the brink of irrelevancy by a body of work that makes you wonder how you could of ever doubted it. Mitski’s Puberty 2 is exactly one of those albums. The singular vision of one artist that creates the kind of emotional journey across its playtime that an algorithm-generated playlist never could. Records at their best are so much greater than the sum of their parts. The pain and anguish on songs such as ‘My Body’s Made of Crushed Little Stars’ need the cautious glimmer of hope in ‘Dance the Dancer’ or ‘A Burning Hill’. Learning to live is learning to embrace it all, and that’s what Mitski is showing us how to do on this record.
Favourite Brighton Gig: Sunflower Bean – Bleach
Talent, when it exists in such abundance within just a single individual, can almost appear selfish. Witnessing New York band Sunflower Bean, made up of three such individuals, you get something of the sensation. The band, not even out of their teens, command the stage and their sound with such confidence and prowess that you’re left thinking, ‘hey, save some for the rest of us, why don’t you?’ Their debut album was a promising mix of psych/dream pop but it did nothing to prepare me for witnessing them live, a juggernaut of fuzz, phasers and minding riffage that leaves you reeling. (Also check our review of their album Human Ceremony).
Favourite Album We Missed: Andy Shauf – The Party
My favourite album that we missed this year would have to be Andy Shauf's The Party which came out on May 20th 2016. I'm surprised we missed it to be honest as Iain had been raving about Shauf since The Great Escape in 2015 – where he was a stand out act (read Iain's interview with Andy). Of course May 20th was a big day for us in 2016 – we had our Alternative Escape Showcase and released Los Albertos' This Is a Serious Party EP on the Brightonsfinest Presents label, so perhaps we can be forgiven for taking our eyes briefly off the ball! I saw Andy Shauf performing at Primavera Festival in Barcelona and was totally blown away by the dark mood he conjured up. I did something I very rarely do and bought his latest two albums as I was leaving the auditorium. The Party is a little more upbeat than Andy's previous album The Bearer Of Bad News and it really cements him as one of the great song-writers of the moment, for me. With his tendency towards a baritone guitar tuning (half a step down from standard) and soft, melancholy melodies he often reminds me of Elliott Smith, although Shauf is more of a story-teller, with intimate tales of small town Canada. This record sees him utilising a lot of his great piano and clarinet work too – I would certainly put it in my top 5 albums of 2016 so far!
Favourite Album We Reviewed: Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool
As for my favourite I'm afraid that has to go to Radiohead with A Moon Shaped Pool, although it has stiff competition – I was very close to picking out David Bowie's final album Blackstar, but as a life-long Radiohead obsessive they just pipped him at the post. For anyone who found King Of Limbs a little obtuse this latest offering steps a little back towards In Rainbows territory. That's an over-simplification, of course, from the tugging strings of the opening track 'Burn The Witch' it's obvious Radiohead are again breaking new ground, this time letting Jonny Greenwood step-up and shine with an emphasis on genius orchestral arrangements performed by the London Contemporary Orchestra adding depth and texture to a great collection of songs.
Favourite Brighton Gig: Ady Suleiman – The Green Door Store
My favourite gig of 2016 so far is a show I almost didn't make it down to – on February's leap-day I found myself standing in for another reviewer checking out Ady Suleiman at the Green Door Store. I wasn't sure what to expect, having listened to only a few single tracks, the production led me to expect a DJ on backing tracks and Ady singing up front, which isn't really my thing. I was pleasantly surprised by Ady's excellent band and his fantastic song-writing. His smooth, jazzy, soulful pop is tipped for the top, and I'm sure he will go far if he continues with his present form.
Favourite Album We Reviewed: Sam Jordan & The Dead Buoys – When Golden Morning Comes EP
A bit loaded, as I haven’t covered many releases this year. This one was quite special though, and even more so because it was a debut from a local act, so it’s unusual to find this kind of calibre. I remember the feeling of pleasant surprise I had on my first listen, and how it built over time as I grew acquainted with the record. Sam’s vocals are powerful and moving, and the band behind him may be understated, but they always know exactly where they need to be. The more you hear it, the more it reveals its secrets to you – there’s really so much contained in just a few tracks. (Read our Q&A with Sam)
Favourite Album We Missed: Snarky Puppy – Culcha Vulcha
Snarky Puppy are big-hitters on the jazz fusion scene, a sprawling collective of some of the best musicians in the US. They’re prolific writers and producers, now with 11 albums under their belt since 2006 and a very fluid membership. Their albums are uniformly intense and uncompromising – and to be honest they can border on musical snobbery. But to me it was no surprise that Culcha Vulcha was a smashing album, if heavy going. What did surprise me was the variety on there – Snarky Puppy are a hugely experimental band, but once again they found a way to push the boundaries, delving ever deeper into prog-jazz and alt-funk. I found it to be remarkably well structured, with plenty of smoother, slower numbers to temper down the fanatic funk of much of the record. It would’ve been a real experience, and a challenge, to review it, but I got there too late.
Favourite Brighton Gig: The Lone Bellow – Komedia
This one really stands out for me. I think I described it as a musically enriching experience: I left the concert feeling uplifted by the band, who are a folk trio with a lot of emphasis on vocal harmonies. They were all phenomenal musicians and exceptionally sensitive songwriters. While they didn’t have a particularly energetic stage show, they really didn’t need it – I got the impression that the whole crowd could easily have stood, eyes closed, for the whole gig. Plus their songs had a kind of reality and relatability. It was easy to identify and engage with the experiences they were relating. I’ll definitely be seeing them again next time they’re in town.
Favourite Album We Reviewed: Kiran Leonard – Grapefruit
Kiran Leonard writes songs that are massive in scope but scratchy and lo-fi by design. Leonard builds on his past eight years of singles, EPs and albums and delivers his defining moment. Grapefruit is full of clever ideas, ad-hoc melodies and syncopated drumming, but with a massive pop sheen. Only someone on the top of their game would release an album such as this and open it with a 16-minute pop song. After that the rest of it seems slightly pedestrian but, compared to his peers, Leonard is still miles ahead.
Favourite Album We Missed: Merlin Tonto – Baotou
Merlin Tonto are the best live band in Brighton. No argument. Anyone who has seen their psych-space-indie dance sets live can vouch for this. But it wasn’t until this year’s Baotou EP that people started to think, “Maybe they can be the BEST band in Brighton”. The EP twists and skews along for five tracks of breath-taking beauty, but with a vein of visceral passion surging through it. Later this year it’s rumoured their debut long player will be released. Given the strength of this and their live sets, Merlin Tonto I looks set to be the album of the year! (Check out our live review of Merlin Tonto)
Favourite Brighton Gig: Guerraz – The Great Escape 2016
Stumbling upon new music is the best thing, but when you actually bump into a band playing it takes on a whole new meaning. During The Great Escape I decided to have a sit on the beach, it seemed rude not to. As I was walking back to town I almost bumped in a guy playing guitar. They were a duo and the drummer’s kit was made out of an upturned bike and they were called Guerraz. I was totally captivated. Eventually I recovered but they were one of the best things I saw all weekend. (Read our full review of The Great Escape 2016)
Favourite Album We Reviewed: Suuns – Hold/Still
It is a migraine-inducing task to organise 2016 into a concise format midway through. When push comes to shove though – as it always does – Suuns' third effort, Hold/Still has to be my favourite release that I have covered. Montreal’s Suuns are a band who work completely within their own dark, twisted galaxy – a black hole of intensity, horror and opaque electronica. Hold/Still saw the four-piece inject a new tension into their sound. Glimmers of sparse trip-hop found root in the album which did a fantastic job of excavating any optimism from the sound. Standout tracks took shape as ‘UN-NO’ and the quite literally paralysing ‘Paralyzer’. As an album it was sadistically bleak and industrial but simultaneously so possessive in the way it held your attention from start to finish.
Favourite Album We Missed: Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial
In regards those not covered, Car Seat Headrest’s Teens of Denial tops my list. It is an album that is scathing of oneself, cementing itself within the exploration of masculinity and the vulnerability of the gender. Will Toledo’s taught voice laments everything that haunts the shadows of the male mind in 2016 and underneath cuts a tension in his guitar reminiscent of Surfer Rosa era Pixies. Songs throughout the album emerge more like a conversation with you as a listener. Samples from radio excerpts introduce songs, conversations discuss the band throughout and this demonstrates an inclusive relationship with you as a listener. As a male when listening to this album I certainly feel as if Toledo has stripped back the ego from masculinity and served up a dish that I can finally comprehend. (Check out our live review)
Favourite Brighton Gig: Explosions In The Sky – Brighton Dome
Explosions In The Sky tops the gigs of the year. Their performance at Brighton Dome back in April left me tingling for days after. I was swamped within rains of lights and waterfalls of colour; both of which transported me from my Sunday evening blues to a complete utopia. The group were touring in support of their latest album The Wilderness. It is an album of nine mini-symphonies that the group largely touched upon that evening. What is interesting is that each song is a multi-sensory blow dictating soundscapes and accompanying visuals to set a mood. An audience stood in awe for two hours with not a single member daring to speak above the sound omitting from the stage.