So we’ve made it through the second half of 2016 and the time has come for the second instalment of our half yearly round-up. Back in June I was saying it felt like we’d already been through most of a year, but famous deaths and shocking news stories have turned into a constant theme. It’s almost like a meme has been established and the world’s journalists have simply been searching for more stories that fit the trope. Yes, 2016, you’ve really been trolling us with all of these bizarre twists: Trump, Brexit, the train strikes, the rising celebrity death-count and of course the shock ending of Brangelina! Of course all this is merely the support band and music itself is the big star for us here at Brightonsfinest.com. We’ve asked our writers to pick out their favourite album and show of 2016, as well as an album we missed for review when it was released. Read on to see what we loved from the last six months…
Best of July – December 2016
Favourite Album: Ryley Walker – Golden Sings That Have Been Sung
The new 'golden' boy of progressive folk-jazz-acoustica came on further leaps and bounds this year with the release of this, his fourth album (including one live album) since 2014. As musical artists of his standing increasingly throw away the orthodox industry shackles of just one release every three years, so does the propensity for alternative visions and rewarding risk-taking. Which in the case of Golden Sings That Have Been Sung, pays handsome dividends.
While some of his fans were very attracted to the blatantly revivalist sounds, textures and images of his previous studio album, Primrose Green, this time Walker reaches out decisively as his own man. "It's a much better version of myself," he said. Indeed, he's taken off those rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia, and dispensed with the over-bearing shadows of Tim Buckley, Nick Drake and John Martyn, although hints of their influences remain.
Largely featuring the same set of musicians he used for Primrose Green, most songs here were developed on the road, benefiting from the fluidity that working with the same batch of musicians can deliver. And throughout Golden Sings… there is a languid sophistication that ventures into pastoralism, soulful jazz-folk, psychedelia and jazz rock. It's very much a band effort, the muso flair of Walker's guitar toned down considerably, and it's all the better for it.
Favourite Album We Missed: Orkestra Mendoza – Vamos A Guarachar!
Fusions of world music continued apace in 2016 with a number of stunning releases, almost invariably showing a level of excitement, dynamism and musical expertise missing from yer bog standard indie pop and rock release . Orkestra Mendoza's Vamos A Guarachar! being a case in point. Band leader Sergio Mendoza is a member of Calexico, the Southwestern musical bandidos who, along with the godfathers of desert rock, Giant Sand, represent the best known aspects of the continuously thriving Tucson, Arizona scene. All these acts fashion a borderless sound that spans the Americas. But, Orkestra Mendoza sound like they come from south of the US border, and so their music is dominated by the cultures of Central and South America; mambo and cumbia are the foundations, with psychedelia, desert rock and analogue electronica mixed in varying quantities, the emphasis if anything being on the old school. Moreover, they seem to be having a lot of fun doing so, in creating a Latin big band vibe. From stomping blazin' brass to mildly kitsch melodrama, their live shows are legendary, and they can (like the best Cuban salsa acts) effortlessly out punk and out rock most so-called western rock'n'rollers. Released on the consistently brilliant Glitterbeat label, Vamos A Guarachar! is by turns raucous and tender, and studied and loose.
Favourite Gig: Goat – Corn Exchange
Mysterious and still largely unknown, Sweden's Goat released an album in October, Requiem. More folksy and percussion-based than their previous releases, it was not much of an indicator for their concurrent live shows. In fact they hardly played any of the new album, instead concentrating on the first albums, the aptly named World Music and Commune.
And via their masks, finery and ritual mystique, Goat have drummed up plenty of enthusiasm for a collective, communal and celebratory experience, aided by their brilliantly crafted late 60s/early 70s heavy progressive rock sound, where Black Sabbath meets Hawkwind. There’s a lot of guitar work, plenty of big fuzzed up bass, and tribal percussion from the seven-piece band fronted by the two female singers, who alternatively perform theatrical dance and shouty invocations.
As the set progressed so did the bodily moves of a sell out crowd (upgraded from the All Saints Church), shifting almost imperceptibly into a heaving mass of blissed out communality. Not bad for a Monday night, it's quite rare for a band to sound better live than on record. Goat are one of those rare beasts.
Favourite Album: Laura Mvula – The Dreaming Room
My favourite album of the second half of 2016 has been more of a tricky choice: there are a lot of contenders. I'm going to come down on the side of Laura Mvula's The Dreaming Room. I've been enchanted by Laura Mvula since I saw her on Jools Holland performing songs from her debut album. She has a unique quality to her voice and the music she writes, combining familiar elements in a way I've heard no one else come close to. There's an urban feel to a lot of her sounds and a definite electronic leaning to the work, which normally would flag up warning signs to my musical taste buds. There's something special about Mvula though, something transcendent and spiritual without being overbearingly so. It's not 'preachy' or self-righteous, it seems to come from an internal search. Having read an interview with Laura in my research for the review I found out about her struggle with crippling anxiety which opened my mind up to interpreting the lyrics more directly. It's brave of Mvula to be publicly open about such things but also, in a culture that is so personality-led, quite a canny one. The phenomenal woman she presents, in costume and song, is striking and powerful. It's inspiring to know that in reality she is really struggling with mental health issues but still able to turn in such masterful work.
Favourite Album We Missed: Young the Giant – Home of the Strange
Most tricky of all has been my missed album of 2016's second half. I think we've had a real bumper year of great records and if half the people you find complaining about how “there's no great new music any more” and “all of our best rock stars have died this year” actually paid attention to new releases, the music industry might be in a better shape! I keep thinking I've found a record we missed only to discover we have actually covered it. For example, The Lemon Twigs – Do Hollywood is a real grower of an album and a phenomenal body of work for such young writers. I think Tom may have been a little too quick to call it disappointing when he reviewed it! So after dipping into a lot of records and finding we had actually reviewed them and I'd missed the piece, or immediately seeing why we'd not covered them in the first place, I finally found one that made my ears prick up sufficiently. Apart from vaguely having heard the name before I wasn't sure what to expect from Young the Giant but their album, Home of the Strange, which came out in August grabbed my ears. Sameer Ghadia has a powerful, soulful voice. Jeff Bhasker produces, assisted by Alex Salibian, lending the album the sort of modern pop sheen you might expect from someone who’s worked with huge artists like Kanye West, Jay-Z and Mark Ronson (he's won Grammy's from each of those collaborations). Although this big sound is what draws you in it's also what I ultimately like least about the record, there's a soulful feel to the music that might work even better if things were a little less produced – I think I'll need to see these guys live before I'm totally sold, but it's certainly a great modern alternative rock record and one we should not have missed!
Favourite Gig: The Divine Comedy – De La Warr Pavilion
My favourite live show of 2016's second half is easy: The Divine Comedy at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill. Shortly after reviewing their latest album Foreverland (which is a real treat) I was really pleased to have the opportunity to reconnect with the band in the best possible way: a live show in an art deco theatre just down the coast. It was fun to have a bit of a break from Brighton that didn't involve a perilous train journey to London (#Southernfail) and my first trip to the De La Warr for music instead of art. Most importantly, Neil Hannon and the band were astounding: they are one of a number of bands I first encountered in the 90s who I have had a chance to rediscover this year and they're the band that most impressed me. Many people will have been familiar with early hits like 'Something For The Weekend', 'National Express' and 'Generation Sex'; but after that I lost track, suspecting their sparkle had passed on. It has not! They played some amazing songs I had totally missed along the years. 'Bad Ambassador' and 'Our Mutual Friend' immediately spring to mind, but if you read my original review I've added a Spotify playlist of the setlist from the night, so you can catch up too!
Favourite Album: Honeyblood – Babes Never Die
From start to finish, Babes Never Die from Honeyblood brings non-stop catchy choruses and riffs, that are easy to pick up on and will force you to sing-along. ‘Ready for The Magic’ has become a go to staple for me and I would argue it sums up 2016 in a compact three minute musical flashback. Not only is their record divine, Honeyblood were the first band I reviewed for Brightonsfinest, so I will always have a soft spot for the girls and can’t wait to see what 2017 will bring them.
Favourite Album We Missed: Tilt Back – No Golf
No Golf is an EP from the upcoming punk band, Tilt Back, who have released a record intwined with more realism than any band I’ve heard this year. The record is one that takes some time to grow on you but as soon as it clicks, the imagery created becomes an amazing insight into the raw emotion of young adulthood that many will relate with. ‘Goat Stoned’ is a personal highlight which offers dismal attempts of friendship and heartache that really hits home. If there is one underground release you listen to next year, let it be this one.
Favourite Gig: The Low Anthem – Komedia
Only a handful of times in my life have I left a gig wondering what on earth I have just seen. The Low Anthem took that idea, magnified it a thousand fold and brought the most delightfully confusing show I’ve ever seen. Every time I think back to this show, it brings a smile to my face. Ever seen a singer have a shave on stage and then use the razor on his guitar to create one of the most intense and amazing sounds you’ve ever heard? No? Well it’s all in a day’s work for The Low Anthem. No words can truly describe how or why this band are so good but put simply, they are. On their next return to the UK, if you get the chance to see these mysterious folk, do NOT pass it up, I promise you'll be left in a state of awe for weeks after and be dying to witness The Low Anthem experience again.
Favourite Album: BadBadNotGood – IV
With new musical discoveries happening less and less as time goes on, 2016 will be part remembered for BadBadNotGood re-igniting my love for the jazz genre and everything that goes with it. Not only did I come across this Canadian jazz quartet for the first time, initially hearing the single ‘Time Moves Slow’ which is not one of my tracks of the year, but their most recent album IV has to go down as one of the finest albums this year. With no points for working out why they have named their album so, their forth studio album sees an evolution in sound, not something that was ever necessarily needed but one that is very welcome indeed. The once instrumental trio have gained a new member in saxophonist Leland Whitty as well as featuring some truly fantastic guest vocalists for the first time; the harrowing Sam Herring (Future Islands), the wicked wordsmith Mick Jenkins and the satin sounding soul of Charlotte Day Wilson in particular deserving a special mention. The band have always had a strong connection with hip-hop in their music and IV is no different – songs like ‘Speaking Gently’ and ‘Hyssop Of Love’ brilliantly bridging the gap from an “old fashioned” genre to the popular. A special collaboration on ‘Lavender’ with electronic producer Kaytranada may show what the future holds for BadBadNotGood’s sound but, at their core they are still a typical jazz band, the gorgeous ‘IV’ and ‘Cashmere’ playing spectacular testament to this.
Favourite Album We Missed: Douglas Dare – Aforger
Released on the visionary avant-garde record label Erased Tapes, Douglas Dare has come back with another dose of emotionally charged music in Aforger. Following on from the highly praised debut Whelm, one of the finest albums to be released in 2014, there is no doubt that Dare is truly a special musician and Aforger was met with great anticipation. Having come out to his father as well as coming out of a long term relationship ahead of writing this record, Aforger’s passionate, emotional undertones are for all to see. But this is by no means a break-up album, instead it grapples with the ideas of identity and reality. As we have experienced in his past releases, Dare’s talent for lyric writing is an unquestionable highlight in his sound, and it is certainly no different here. However, the album’s glorious instrumentation and musical arrangement takes centre stage, being complex yet spacious, addictively haunting and staggeringly impressive throughout the LP. Not to mention Dare’s vocals which fit the sonority of his music magnificently. Two albums in and it is easy to see why Douglas Dare is being regarded as one of the UK’s most talented musical minds, helped by creating this ever ambitious and sonically pleasing second record.
Favourite Gig: Khruangbin – Komedia
A Texan instrumental band that play Thai funk inspired psychedelic surf-rock – need I say more? With Donald “DJ” Johnson holding an impeccably tight and simplistic beat, allowing the sublime Laura Lee to create the grooviest of grooves on bass, the Khruangbin package is perfected with none other than the effortlessly cool Mark Speer and his immaculate funkified guitar shredding. Their debut album The Universe Smiles Upon You (November 2015) is a hushed gem full of intertwining mellow melodies and mesmerising laid-back rhythms that stay remarkably fresh after a near obsessive amount of listens, but their live show is a whole different story. Yes, whilst there are times that the super smooth and relaxing grooves send uncontrollable chilled out waves across the room, which are very welcomely received, it is the damn right dazzling funk-induced classic Thai tracks and hidden funk-filled album treasures that continually whipped the Komedia crowd into a frenzy. Having now taken to the stage three times this year in Brighton, there is an amazing amount of local love for Khruangbin and their magnificent music – we cannot wait for the next time.
Favourite Album: Jenny Hval – Blood Bitch
The latter half of 2016 has been jam-packed with fantastic album releases, a few have stuck out though, in particular Jenny Hval’s Blood Bitch. Jenny’s fifth album under her current moniker was an album equally as eerie as her last, Apocalypse, Girl. It knocked on ideological and mythical doors a little more though, touching cornerstones of femininity in the same way that Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber did. It was built around tense soundscapes and conversations between Jenny and her friends. Tracks such as ‘The Plague’ and ‘Ritual Awakening’ were stand outs from the album emphasising her importance for avant-garde music nowadays.
Favourite Album We Missed: American Wrestlers – Goodbye Terrible Youth
When it came to albums we missed, American Wrestlers’ Goodbye Terrible Youth brought about a sound akin to The National teaming up with Sonic Youth. Built around the Glaswegian Gary McClure, American Wrestlers write abrasive American anthems for a slacker-rock fan in need of a good melody. Examples were dotted throughout the album – look no further than ‘Someone Far Away’ and ‘Terrible Youth’ for the finest examples of this. Expect to hear a lot more of the group in 2017 when they hopefully get set for a UK tour. Ultimately, they summarise what a great year 2016 has been for the angsty American youth to grab a guitar and make a racket: Car Seat Headrest, Palehound, Mitski and now American Wrestlers.
Favourite Gig: Girl Band – Scala
When it came to the best gig of the last six months, so many made it close – Fat White Family, Pixies, The Growlers – but seeing Girl Band at Scala stole it at the last minute, in the dying seconds of December. They changed my perception of live music with a relentless intensity. Songs such as ‘Baloo’, ‘Paul’ and ‘Umbongo’ caused unprecedented amounts of sweat and it was the first time I have seen teenagers so excited about live music in a long time. It riled me so much, I had to grab tickets for their Birmingham show and their next London show as soon as I made it home.
Favourite Album: Lakuta – Brothers & Sisters
Although its release seems a long time ago now, Lakuta’s Brothers & Sisters is never far from my ears. Ten tracks of music that are both culturally and artistically broad, the album is flawlessly delivered and thematically makes a point of confronting serious subjects head on. It’s hugely affirming to see a homegrown band getting attention both nationally and internationally, garnering radio play from names like Craig Charles, Lauren Laverne, Huey Morgan and Gilles Peterson – as it is affirming to know that we’d already reviewed the album long before any of them had even heard of Lakuta.
Favourite Album We Missed: Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love!
A late entrant to the contest, Gambino’s third studio album may have only been out for three weeks, but I’ve already listened to it countless times. As a fan of Donald Glover’s other non-musical projects, I’d always wanted to like his records, but couldn’t help but find them derivative, uninspired, and devoid of stylistic innovation. This is the album I’d been waiting for, where he stops imitating and recreating, and starts experimenting – inventing even. Childish Gambino has finally come into his own as a musician, and the result is an album made to be on repeat.
Favourite Gig: Imarhan – Komedia
Just when I think I’m getting to know music pretty well, something blows a hole in my understanding. Imarhan was one of those moments which introduced me to not just a new genre, but a new world of music that I had no idea existed. Seeing them at Komedia was my introduction to Saharan music, an intensely emotive and enthralling style which follows different rules to Western music, and also carries with it a whole history of Algerian protest music right back to the 70s. Onstage they seemed captured by their own rhythms, young but talented performers taking their sound around the world. The concert was an eye-opener for me, and since then their debut album stays at the top of my pile.
Favourite Album: Preoccupations – Preoccupations
With overriding themes of fear, anxiety and violence, Preoccupations’ self-titled debut is the perfect soundtrack to a year in which the geopolitical landscape was shaken to its core. The intricate guitar work and technical drum patterns of the Viet Cong record have been replaced with jagged bass and warped synth, with the rhythmic work taking more of a motorik backseat this time around; providing the framework for the rest of the band to explore an intense network of elongated compositions. Preoccupations offers a deep, personal experience with disconsolate wordplay that invites you on a journey into the destructive psyche Matthew Flegal was in when writing the record. 2016 was shit and no other LP encapsulates the unnerving sense of dread engrained in the world’s psyche right now.
Favourite Album We Missed: Public Access TV – Never Enough
Is This It bookmarked my formative years and whilst my musical inclinations may have changed, the teenager in me still craves the initial elation I experienced when listening to those perfect 36 minutes and 26 seconds for the first time. Public Access TV have managed to inherit the youthful exuberance and carefree attitude of their fellow New Yorkers’ debut, with each of the 12 tracks following the verse-chorus-verse framework to perfection. The short lengths, minimal effects and absent synthetics defiantly go against everything popular within music right now and the four-piece manage to carry it off sublimely. Never Enough does the simple things impeccably. Every composition possesses a beautiful charm and a memorable chorus that takes less than a minute to hook you in. Good albums within this genre barely exist nowadays. “They say the kids don’t like rock’n’roll any more,” croons John Eatherly on ‘End of an Era’. He may be right, but if there were more records made in this vein then that wouldn’t be the case.
Favourite Gig: Ulrika Spacek – The Green Door Store
With mind-altering visuals draped across the wall playing in sync with the music, Ulrika Spacek took the Green Door Store audience on a sonic transportation with their psych infused-grunge. The vast length of each of their elongated compositions allows the hypnotic loops to gently penetrate your imagination and ship you on a spaced out journey in which you gradually immerse yourself in the framework of their songs. Choosing to use sixteen bars in the majority of their arrangements, the London-based band permit themselves a licence to explore, which manifests into a blissful foray into the uncharted. The tense, unregulated rhythms coupled with the blissful layers of trippy shoegaze makes for a thrilling experience. Add in the competing harmonies and bellowing guitars under the backdrop of patient kraut-style build up, it all packed together to create an hour of masterful soundscapes.
Favourite Album: Frank Ocean – Blonde
2016 is coming to an end and things aren’t looking good. Swathes of ignorance and hatred are shrouding much of the world and a lot of people are due to suffer because of it. In such dire times a question I keep returning to is what is music actually supposed to do in response to all of this. Bring people together? Offer escapism? Express anger? The answer is probably all of these. But as Ocean’s album shows, music is also a means to reveal our intense vulnerability as people. By making us aware this vulnerable state is something we all share, purely by just being human beings, also makes for radical and powerful response.
For one of the most hyped pop and R’n’B albums of the year, Blonde is one of the weirder and more idiosyncratic releases to come out. Full of digressions, sketches and unexpected explorations of different genres. It might not be perfect, but it has a bravery to it that means it’s necessary to reflect on as we begin to analyse the most significant music to come out this year.
On Blonde Frank gives us a version of himself that is complex, elliptical and incomplete. He escapes the destiny of demographics and the constraints of stereotypes. But his unknown qualities are much the same as how we all appear to ourselves and to each other. As a gay black man, some might have expected Ocean to release an album that positioned him as a spokesperson for multiple oppressed groups. But by refusing to speak for anybody’s experience but his own, Blonde becomes an amazingly empathetic gesture. What should music do? Probably something a bit like this.
Favourite Album We Missed: Show Me the Body – Body War
If there is one thing you can say about Show Me The Body it’s that they’re fucking angry. Boasting a strong sense of regional pride around its home turf in New York City, Body War is the cadaveric spasm of whole communities becoming misplaced or priced out of their own homes. A cross between classic 80s hardcore and the industrial-rap skronk of Death Grips, Show Me the Body’s debut album poses a compelling central question about when people have no means to speak out, what other ways do they have to resist? Despite the wordiness of the album, there’s a kind of unarticulated rage present. Enacted only in lashing out and causing damage, which it somehow manages to translate into a contorted and tension ridden sonic palette.
Favourite Album: Palace – So Long Forever
With a debut EP that earned them a support slot with Jamie T, Palace’s debut album was anticipated by critics to be a killer release and I had been desperately waiting to hear it. Considering their relatively short time together as a band, I had a lingering worry that the album would be a little hit and miss, but I soon learnt this was absolutely unwarranted. Palace bulldozed onto the scene in 2014 and soon became well-known for their trademark laid back sound, and So Long Forever is a testament to the initial releases that they were widely praised for. The album shows the foursome have matured, yet remained faithful and makes following their journey from inception utterly gratifying.
Favourite Album We Missed: Slow Club – One Day All of This Won't Matter Any More
Sheffield duo Charles Watson and Rebecca Taylor swell their well-established sound in One Day All of This Won’t Matter Any More with huge arrangements abetted by the Spacebomb studio house band and producer Matthew E White. Despite mixed reviews from critics, the album is a fitting tribute to their melancholic country-soul, it’s easy to listen to and littered with morose choral vocals and expansive soundscapes. Slow Club are consistently reinventing themselves, and this release is another example of their effortless talent.
Favourite Gig: Local Natives – KOKO
Between the 2010 debut album Gorilla Manor and the 2013 release Hummingbird Local Natives had accumulated quite the reputation. Gratifying, meditative and garnished with a generous helping of soaring harmonies and grand melancholia, both releases were innovative and emotionally raw. Their latest release Sunlit Youth demonstrates the group's attempt to continue the development that was so well received previously. The tour that followed gave me my first opportunity to see the band in the UK. With a back catalogue that I had been emotionally invested in since a young teenager, I had high expectations for their live show and they did not disappoint. Local Natives performed with a seamless appetite to please their audience and mixed tracks from all three albums into a three hour set of bliss. The show was easily my favourite gig of the year, and possibly the decade.
The second half of 2016 has been an absolute whirlwind of new releases, brilliantly diverse gigs and cool festivals.
Best album of the half year for me was Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker made even more pertinent by his recent passing. I have been a devoted fan since first hearing his track ‘Sisters of Mercy’ on The Rock Machine Turns You On (still the best compilation ever compiled) in 1968. Never did he falter and the precise eloquence of his lyrics was always matched sublimely by the uniqueness of his melodies and none more so than on his last album, stripping back the music for the perfect ending. A great signing off.
From July to December 2016 Brighton was blessed with many fantastic performances, from Brian Wilson and The Beach Boys at Together the People Festival, to GOAT at The Corn Exchange and Crystal Fighters at The Dome. However Bear’s Den just shaded it for me. A great night and fantastic to see a band whose origins started so humbly in Brighton come back home in triumph.
Finally the act I was keen to see this year but missed was Low at St George’s Church which happened to be on my birthday. I have been a fan of their low-fi music for sometime but ironically missed the performance due to a surprise birthday party organised by my family and friends, an unusual scenario, made even worse later on by everyone telling me how great Low were. Had a great birthday party but sorry I missed the band.
Read our review of the first six months of the year here: http://brightonsfinest.com/html/index.php/spotlight/1605-best-of-the-year-january-june
See our best photos of the year here: http://www.brightonsfinest.com/html/index.php/Gallery/best-of-2016