Welcome to our eighth best-of-the-year list, and our second as a crack team of four. It’s patently obvious that 2016 has been thoroughly rubbish*, but at least we’ve had plenty of good music to set against the headlines, bowings-out and splittings-up. The compilation of our Top Thirty Records of 2016 was less painful than usual too, the smooth working of one well-oiled machine (we call him Pete). Still, those of you who come back every year will see that despite the neatness of the electoral process the list shows the usual surfeit of eclecticism.
So we invite you to view our shiny baubles, our fresh and seasonal produce. Not a turkey to be seen, apart from the four above. See you in 2017 – at the very least it won’t be 2016. Cheers!
(*although angrybonbon got married to the love of his life, so 2016 wasn’t all bad for everyone. Cheers!)
In the bubbling under category: Apostille: Virile Strain Transmission; The Belbury Poly: New Ways Out; Bob Mould: Patch the Sky; Weaves: Weaves; Radar Men From The Moon: Subversive II: Splendor of the Wicked; Ben Chatwin: Heat & Entropy; Steve Hauschildt: Strands; Hen Party: Glitter Sweats.
Reissues: Sweet Billy Pilgrim: We Just Did What Happened and No One Came
The Top Thirty:
30. Galcid: Hertz
29. Ogre & Dallas Campbell: Night of the Living Dead (Original Motion Picture Rescore)
28. Peter Baumann: Machines of Desire
27. Mugstar: Magnetic Seasons
26. Factory Floor: 25 25
25. Vanishing Twin: Choose Your Own Adventure
24. Barberos: Barberos
23. Goat: Requiem
22. Opeth: Sorceress
21. John Carpenter:Lost Themes II
20. Go March: Go March
Add Go March to your list of famous Belgians as this Antwerp band lay out a striking debut of spiky motorik and krautrock.
19. Juan Atkins & Moritz Van Oswald: Transport
Two of the heavyweights of techno come together as Borderland to produce the deepest beats and phasing loveliness.
18. Yak: Alas Salvation
Fearsome guitar noises, shouting, tunes. Victorious!
17. Grumbling Fur: FurFour
Mind-expanding pop music, featuring biblical patriarchs from outer space.
16. The Heartwood Institute: Calder Hall: Atomic Power Station
Sizzling with radioactivity, the polymath that is The Heartwood Institute delivers a beautiful slice of electro-hauntology.
15. The Pineapple Thief: Your Wilderness
Somerset’s greatest prog band return to form with King Crimson/Porcupine Tree drummer Gavin Harrison along for the ride.
14. Teleman: Brilliant Sanity
The second collection of slightly wonky but brilliant pop songs from a band who seem to be able to produce them without breaking a sweat.
13. Thee Oh Sees: A Weird Exits
San Francisco psych rockers manage what looks like a crossover smash on their first of their two records for 2016.
12. The Mortlake Bookclub: Exquisite Corpse
The only soundtrack you need for the Folk Horror Revival. Four movements of palimpsest drone that both spooks and moves.
11. Martha: Blisters in the Pit of my Heart
Reminds you it’s still possible to do quite a lot with the raw materials associated with ‘punk’ & ‘pop’ if you’re as smart and lively as this lot are.
10. worriedaboutsatan: Blank Tape
Brooding, ambient electronica and hypnotic atmospheric rhythms. Antoher top class album from this duo to follow last years’s Even Temper.
9. Posthuman: Back to Acid
12 tracks of caustic pleasure, from the robotic march of ‘Six Hundred’ to the delicious twang of ‘Beat Down’, via the excellent atmospheric throbber ‘Mezzotint’. I’ve said it before, Acid House is the new Dad Music.
8. Warning Light: Life Death Suite EP
Entrancing clatter and looping tones as a taster for the full album.
7. Teenage Fanclub: Here
It’s been six years since the last one, but the Fannies shine just as brightly as they ever did.
6. A Year in the Country: The Quietened Bunker
Nothing quite says 2016 like a compilation album on the theme of abandoned cold war structures and bunkers, because underground is where we’ll all be living soon after the nuclear button gets pressed. Unsettling drone, snatched samples, glitched beats and claustrophobic synths; it’s all here.
5. Meilyr Jones: 2013
So rich, extravagant, and strange that it sounds like a ‘best of’ album covering several years in an artist’s life; no single track can do it justice but this will do fine here:
4. Voyag3r: Are You Synthetic?
The perfect SF adventure album. From laser duels on frozen planets to war rockets being dispatched to Ajax, this album oozes class and sophistication whilst not taking itself too seriously. It’s the sound of a band having stupid amounts of fun and tracking ‘Flash Gordon On Ice: the Musical’ whilst they’re doing it. Utterly brilliant.
3. Gnod: Mirror
Our Salfordian troubadours picked up the guitars (or banjos as they like to call them) once again and proved why they lead the pack when it comes to enveloping sludge, resistant noise and all-consuming terror.
2. Matmos: Ultimate Care II
Two men, one washing machine and one track. Every sound made from said cleaning device. From intimate glitch to all-out pounding techno. Too see this live, replete with the machine, was to marvel at the wonder and genius that is Matmos. Amazing.
1. Oscillotron: Cataclysm
The purest and deepest space music. Cosmic kosmische of the highest order. An album that let us take flight and escape the hideousness of this worldly reality, especially as it unfolded this year. Transcendental.
So you can do yourself a big end-of-the-year favour and go buy some or all of the above albums. They are available from shops and sites – independent ones, big shiny ones, online ones (who pay their taxes), ones where there isn’t really a shop but you have to email some bloke. We like buying records – actually, we really do. And we think you should too.
Merry Xmas and a happy Newest Year one and all.
angrybonbon, JKneale, matthewpetty & Pete Collins
We used a spreadsheet this year. Yes, a bloody spreadsheet.
It’s still not a perfect representation of what was an excellent year for music or, in fact, what we individually valued, but it will have to do. And at least we arrived at a top ten rather than the fudge of a top four we presented to you, adoring reader(s), this time last year.
Residing in the bubbling under category for 2010 were cracking albums by: The Hold Steady, Titus Andronicus, Holy Fuck, Wavves, Silver Mt Zion, The Divine Comedy, To Rococo Rot, Gold Panda, Thomas White, The Phantom Band, and Wooden Shjips.
Which – when we look at it – is a pretty amazing set of also-rans. It was a good year for music, like we said. Here’s a Spotify playlist of (nearly) all the artists we loved from 2010.
And the honourable reissues were:
Nosferatu D2 – We’re Gonna Walk Around This City With Our Headphones On To Block Out The Noise. If this had been released this year it would have been in our collective top 20. It’s brilliant.
The Wonder Stuff – Hup (21st Anniversary Edition). More of a remake than a reissue, but still a pile of beautiful bile and hoe-down pop silliness.
And now, in reverse order for the sheer hell of it, here’s our top ten of ’10:
10. Drum Eyes: Gira Gira
Cloaks on! Enormous squelchy head-nodding sounds from DJ Scotch Egg and team. Engaging, mesmerising, sounds ace really really loud.
9. Four Tet: There Is Love In You
Kieran Hebden – one of Putney’s finest exports – leaves the folktronica to one side and steers a rewardingly wobbly path between the tricksy and the tuneful. Consistently rewarding.
8. Mugstar: …Sun, Broken…
Space-rock for the now age. Gloriously large riffage and droned workouts that eat your ears.
7. The European: In a Very Real Sense Now
Deserves a proper review, really, and it might just get one before the end of the year. Simon Break writes tunes your postman could whistle and lyrics than are still making us laugh eight months after we first heard them. Proper pop for the not easily pleased.
6. The National: High Violet
After a good deal of excited waiting we got something like the album we were waiting for. Something of a breakthrough/crossover album, though the production arguably blunted some of the charm. When it worked – particularly on ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’ – it made you think there was hope for this big indie band thing after all.
5. Fang Island: Fang Island
A refreshing lack of po-faced sincerity, this record is a joy from start to finish. If you can’t smile to and with this record there’s something wrong with you and the world.
Life Coach – Fang Island
4. Teenage Fanclub – Shadows
Baby Lee – Teenage Fanclub
3. I Like Trains – He Who Saw the Deep
Not-so-difficult second album helped out by fan pledges – definitely one of the best ways of getting round the problem of making music pay for itself. Still doing an excellent job at the point on the Venn diagram where songs and post-rock meet, with Guy Bannister’s voice more than holding up against the swelling guitars and drums. Wonderful.
Progress is a Snake – I Like Trains
2. Teeth Of The Sea – Your Mercury
An album that re-instates your faith that the musically new is possible after all. Properly disquieting, epic and expansive, TOTS push at barriers you didn’t realise existed until they’re collapsing around your head. We love ’em.
You’re Mercury – Teeth of the Sea
1. No Age – Everything In Between
Abstract interludes, all out DIY two-chorders, angsty beauty and everything in between. A truly staggering achievement of tortured guitars, noise and harmonies. We both saw them live this year and were left grinning like shit-eating tortoises. Marvellous.
Shed and Transcend – No Age
We hope you enjoyed. Merry Christmas. And see you soon.
Jkneale and angrybonbon
[All of these lovely records are available from shops – independent ones, big shiny ones, online ones, ones where there isn’t really a shop but you have to email some bloke. We like buying records – actually, we really do. And we think you should too, so if you like any of this and haven’t already bought them, go on! They’ll be cheap by now]
Teenage Fanclub are often dismissed by Lazy Journalists as merely the sum of their influences – Byrds, Big Star, Beach Boys harmonies, etc – but I think they’ve achieved something much more important. They’ve worked out what joy sounds like. They’ve got the chords for it and everything. I know people say these things are learned, that it’s just a series of sounds we associate with happiness, but I think if you could make endorphins sing it would sound like this. And TFC are also spectacularly good at ‘doing a pastoral’ without making you want to gag. They’ve made many great albums, but 1997’s Songs From Northern Britain stands out as a series of songs about getting out of town, taking a deep breath, and counting your blessings.
And with this new album, their first for five years, they’ve gone back to that idea. It’s not 100% bubblegum – though I’d love to hear them do that – and there are brass and strings to flesh out the guitars and keyboards. It’s their most consistent record for ages. But the songs I fall in love with are the ones that seem to exactly capture the feeling I get when I wake up and realise that it’s a beautiful day, or that there’s love and happiness enough to offset the grind and grit. And here is a sunrise, ain’t that enough? Sometimes it is. Course it is.
And there are so many of these songs on this record. I give you two, though the shortlist was almost the entire album, plus one that’s been around a bit longer.
And I hope it’s sunny where you are. And that it’s enough.
When I Still Have Thee – Teenage Fanclub – Shadows
Sometimes I Don’t Need To Believe In Anything – Teenage Fanclub – Shadows
Ain’t That Enough – Teenage Fanclub – Songs From Northern Britain
Now this is what I call a festival: sunshine, free ice cream, just down the road from my house. Of course that wouldn’t be enough to tempt me if the bands were rubbish, but when the line up includes Teenage Fanclub and the Super Furry Animals it’s pretty close to perfection.
TFC were on good form, working up to a new album and brave enough to play some of this material, which sounded great. Otherwise they sensibly stuck to the summery pop they do so well, rather than the grungier stuff – the obligatory Scot calling for ‘Starsign!’ was disappointed, though they did end with a full run through ‘Everything Flows’. They sounded great and seemed very chirpy. Let’s hope they’re on the road again soon.
Did I Say – Teenage Fanclub – Four Thousand Seven Hundred And Sixty-Six Seconds
Ain’t That Enough – Teenage Fanclub – Songs From Northern Britain
Super Furry Animals always make the sun shine and we were treated to a good selection of old and new hits; ‘Juxtaposed with U’ suited the weather, as did ‘Crazy Naked Girls’ from the current album; the crowd – which wasn’t all old indie types, I was pleased to see – leaped up and down for ‘Inaugural Trams’ and ‘Rings Around the World’. Gruff made good use of his signs, playing the audience like an ice-cream-addled instrument. A thoroughly enjoyable afternoon.
Crazy Naked Girls – Super Furry Animals – Dark Days Light Years
Hello Sunshine – Super Furry Animals – Phantom Power
Jkneale, photos Siobhan
Not trying to have the last word, mind, but I had a few more favourite Christmas songs to post. Sorry if you’ve heard them before, but they cover all aspects of the festival, as far as I’m concerned.
The ‘Ghost of Christmas Past’ Decent-If-Pretty-Faithful Christmas Cover – ‘Stay Another Day‘ – Maps
The Christmas-Referencing Song That’s My Year-Round Ringtone – ‘Crystal Castles Save Christmas’ – Crystal Castles
What Christmas Actually Used To Be Like: ‘I’m Getting Pissed For Christmas‘ – Peter And The Test Tube Babies
What I Wish Christmas Eve Sounded Like Round Here: ‘Christmas Eve‘ – Teenage Fanclub
And finally, in the spirit of humbuggery, here’s a topical note from The Indelicates’ first album:
If Jeff Buckley had lived
He’d have been short on the throne
And counted his life out
In an old rockstar’s home
Where they play ‘Hallelujah’
And most wouldn’t know him
If Jeff Buckley had lived
And Uncle Len needs the money, shirley. So we’re all winners. Merry Christmas!