The 10 Best Albums Of 2016

It’s almost common knowledge by now that music has been exceptional in 2016, even if everything else hasn’t. It’s been inspiring to see so much good music come out of uncertain and frightening times. There’s been a couple of major shifts in the industry too. Streaming continues its rise, artist exclusives continue to drop on platforms like Tidal and Spotify, and we hear the same stories about rock music dying and the music industry not having any money on an almost daily basis. Saying that, when the industry can’t drag itself into the 21st century, there’s a push for alternate ways of distributing and consuming music. Bandcamp and Soundcloud continue to offer alternatives, with some of the best music of the year being born on both. It’s unclear what the music industry will do to come to terms with this new divide, but it’s very clear that the quality of music refuses to drop.

fkntNext Thing – Frankie Cosmos

Next Thing improved in almost every way upon its predecessor, Zentropy. It still clocks in at a punky 28 minutes and contains songs that barely break the minute mark, but that’s all in the charm. Frankie Cosmos albums are like collages, little snapshots of a much broader picture, that when it gets pieced together is a colourful combination of pure ectasy and uncertainty. To hear songs like ‘Embody’, where Greta Kline talks about the ‘grace and lightness’ in her friends, and the happiness of seeing her friends being friends, and hear no skepticism, or sarcasm, is refreshing and for a second, makes me think the world might be an ok place. It’s unashamedly sentimental, and the fact that I have to specify sentimentality as being shameful is pretty dreadful. There’s sad moments on Next Thing, but I find the most rewarding moments are when Kline feels strong and content by surrounding herself with people she loves.

whuHeads Up – Warpaint

Without a doubt Warpaint’s greatest moment yet. They’ve moved away from their more guitar-oriented sound, pared back to their strong bass and drums section and then built on top from there. What you get is a dance-inflected pop-rock album that casts off any sleepiness from their last album for a more immediate version. ‘New Song’ is possibly their best pop song yet and ‘So Good’ and ‘The Stall’ delve into hip-hop in a much better capacity than they attempted on Warpaint. Heads Up sounds like the title; less heads-down swaying, and more heads-up dancing.

aomwMY WOMAN- Angel Olsen

Perfecting a sound, Angel Olsen traced over Burn Your Fire For No Witness in much bolder lines, filling in the folky elements with bluesy ballads and powerful pop like ‘Shut Up Kiss Me’, one of the best singles this year. There had been crescendos from Angel Olsen before (see ‘Windows’), but when ‘Sister’ and ‘Woman’ come along, bearing fangs with classic rock soloing and Olsen declaring ‘I dare you to understand what makes me a woman’ with that voice, it’s goosebump-inducing. A bit like Warpaint, this album was like the one Olsen had been leading up to, to reach a peak in sound. But then again, why limit this album to her peak? She’s got much more to give.

radiohead-new-album-a-moon-shaped-pool-download-stream-640x640A Moon Shaped Pool – Radiohead

There’s still much more to understand about A Moon Shaped Pool, and there’s constant fan interpretations of what Radiohead have offered this year and that’s Radiohead’s big trick. All they have to do is release an album, and there will be talk over the tiniest details. Is it about Thom Yorke’s breakup from his partner? Is it about the rise in nationalism (somewhat confirmed)? It’s probably about climate change too. Maybe there’s no grand arc. But the key to any mystery-shrouded band is giving the illusion that there might be. A Moon Shaped Pool is an unusual album, Radiohead take their time to look back for once in their career, and accept their influence. By doing that, this isn’t their ‘electronic’ album, or their ‘political’ album, but a collection of everything they’ve toyed with. This was their breath out.

ncstSkeleton Tree – Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds

If there was an album that perfectly captured 2016, it was Skeleton Tree. Nick Cave working through grief by song is nothing new to the Bad Seeds, but this time it was real. Cave spills his guts when he had no reason to, and there’s plenty of credit to be given for an artist that brings the pain of reality into the public sphere. He touches on the real and the surreal, car crashes and the rings of saturn, electrical storms on the bathroom floor and hyenas singing hymns. This was Nick Cave the poet on fine form. You could almost separate the music from the lyrics, but the subtle twitches and groans of the Bad Seeds are the ideal accompaniment to the album.

Leave-Me-Alone-575x575Leave Me Alone – Hinds

This album made a lot more sense in Summer. When I played it at the beginning of January, it seemed wrong to hear songs about dancing in the streets, going to the beach and a general sunniness that covered these songs from the Madrid band. Refreshingly different, born from equal parts love and sadness. Hinds are needed for indie music, not attached to any British or American ideas of coolness or what’s trendy, instead making music that they’d play at house parties for their friends. Close your eyes listening to this, and you can imagine being on a beach in Spain late at night, possibly a bit drunk.

pse200720112007-2011 – P.S. Eliot

I adore P.S. Eliot, so 50 of their songs being boxed together, complete with demos and barely audible recordings was like early Christmas. The album brings together everything the pre-Waxahatchee/Swearin’ bands, bursting with youthfulness, a DIY spirit and perfect rock songs. Personally, I’m more attached to the first album, Introverted Romance In Our Troubled Minds, which gets plenty of demo treatment, so hearing early versions of ‘Incoherent Love Songs’ minus the harmonica, or ‘Hail Mary’ is useful for connecting the dots between P.S. Eliot and Katie Crutchfield’s first album as Waxahatchee. I hope P.S. Eliot go down in history as one of those short-lived punk bands that everybody loves, and this is a pretty great place if you want to hear it all.

d5a30e2eHuman Performance – Parquet Courts

Great follow-up from Parquet Courts. They’ve shifted gears at exactly the right time, using their Parkay Quarts mini-LPs Content Nausea and Monastic Living as a template for a more americana-tinged sound. When Sunbathing Animal came out I was worried that the band had slipped into a comfort zone, so Human Performance is reassuring to hear that Parquet Courts can experiment on their main releases as well as their mini projects. I’m a huge fan of the more mid-paced songs like ‘Captive Of The Sun’ and ‘Berlin Got Blurry’.

gahtbahbHow To Be A Human Being – Glass Animals

Glass Animals have a Vampire-Weekend-from-the-UK thing going on. A group of preppy students playing around with non-Western styles and making a pop dent at the same time. Dave Bayley is a hugely underrated lyricist, slotting in some truly weird imagery about cocaine on ‘Cane Shuga’ and drinking pork soda. There’s also a concept running throughout the album, where every character on the artwork is represented in a song. So what you get is a set of character studies about being a human being. High concept, but it doesn’t get lost in the story. ‘Life Itself’ and ‘Youth’ are some of the best singles this year.

todTeens Of Denial – Car Seat Headrest

This seems like a big success for Will Toledo. It’s fairytale-like: Guy makes a couple of albums on Bandcamp, gets noticed by label, releases a hugely successful album and ends up on plenty of best-of-the-year lists. If that’s not punk then I don’t know what is. It’s been a long time coming for Toledo, and he didn’t simply repeat his lo-fi sound on a larger scale, he brought in a full band and made his mini-epics into actual epics like ‘The Ballad Of Costa Concordia’. I hope he doesn’t get tagged with the ‘depressing indie music’ stamp of death, because there’s a lot of humour in Teens Of Denial, it just comes with a lot of confusion and self-depreciation too.

Album Of The Week – In Rainbows Disc 2 / Radiohead

rir

Yep, this was released back in 2007, but has made a surprise release on streaming services. The timing is odd, but then again, Radiohead have been significantly more generous when it comes to Apple Music and Spotify recently. It’s also going to be good news for anyone that had no idea this existed – I’d owned In Rainbows for at least a year before finding out there was a second disk. As the title suggests, it’s a continuation of In Rainbows, but has an off-cuts compilation style. That’s not to say these songs are any less good, some of the songs on here, specifically ‘Go Slowly’ and ‘Four Minute Warning’ could have easily replaced a song like ‘Faust Arp’ on disc 1 (the song does nothing for me). It emphasises a creative peak for Radiohead, as always they were overflowing with songs, but it’s hard to find a weak link on In Rainbows, plus it actually sounds like a band that were having fun for the first time in their career. There were no limits by their label, who they’d cut themselves off from, there was the entire ‘pay-what-you-want’ innovation, and nobody had any idea where they would go after the musical collage of Hail To The Thief. In response, they combined the more electronic elements that made up Kid A and Amnesiac with the rock side of HTTF. If anything, Disc 2 gave Radiohead the option to go slightly experimental again, with ambient interludes that recall ‘Treefingers’ spliced with snippets of the In Rainbows sessions. It’s hugely underrated, but maybe it’ll receive some more attention now that it is on a broader platform.

‘Last Flowers’ could have been ‘Videotape’, easily. It’s breathtaking in the same way, incorporating an acoustic guitar over Thom Yorke and a piano – essentially revisiting the ‘How I Made My Millions’ style. In Rainbows is interesting because it was infinitely less political than their last few albums, but didn’t go back to the personal side of Pablo Honey or The Bends because Yorke was also bringing in the more leftfield style that scattered Kid A and Amnesiac. He marries ‘appliances have gone berserk’ with a line so simple as ‘You can offer me escape’ (it’s actually hard to tell whether it’s ‘can’ or ‘can’t’). Yorke can often write songs that require interpretation and reading into, but he also has a knack for a simple line in the middle of more wordy verses, and it can stand out hugely – in a very good way. It’s a shame that songs like ‘Last Flowers’ don’t get the proper album treatment, but in a strange way, isn’t it more exciting to stumble upon ‘Last Flowers’ whilst combing YouTube for lost recordings? Maybe that’s the appeal of being a Radiohead fan, you’ve never found all the gems, there’s always another live version you haven’t heard yet.

‘Bangers + Mash’ and ‘Go Slowly’ will be familiar to anyone who watched the Basement session Radiohead did for In Rainbows and The King Of Limbs. ‘Bangers + Mash’ is the one where Yorke actually plays drums alongside Phil Selway whilst Jonny Greenwood gets the chance to properly rock out once again. ‘Go Slowly’ is the tearjerker where Jonny Greenwood plays those crystalline piano notes. Both show how Radiohead really could go where they wanted to at this point and were under no obligation to either write a scathing political electronic freak-out or a back-to-the-basics rock songDisc 2 serves best as a slowed-down EP that blooms on the piano-based tracks, of which there are plenty. Arguably the guitar works better on ‘Up On The Ladder’ than ‘Bangers + Mash’, despite the emphasis on the distorted sharp teeth of ‘Bangers’. It sounds more menacing on ‘Up On The Ladder’ and with Colin Greenwood’s bass much more prominent it becomes scary. Yorke paints life as a game of snakes and ladders, and I think when he says he’s a puppet, he imagines someone is playing with him in the game, it’s never his choice as to where he goes next, as someone much higher always has the dice. The song could have easily slotted onto Hail To The Thief.

It’s an interesting mini-album/EP. It was the first and last time that Radiohead attempted to do something like this, and that’s interesting. Of course many bands write songs for albums that don’t end up making the cut, but if they are ‘good’, then why not release them in some other form. The only other band I can think of off the top of my head that did something similar was Modest Mouse’s Interstate 8 and Building Something Out Of Nothing. But this feels more meticulous than just a compilation of songs from an era, it sounds like a continuation, and maybe this ‘Disc 2’ system has been overshadowed by the other innovation that Radiohead presented when releasing In Rainbows. Should every band release another mini-album a couple of months after the original with more songs from the session? Probably not, but in the case of bands that are prolific and/or consistently write good songs, it could be the case. Disc 2 is one of the best non-album collections that Radiohead have released, an essential part of what could be considered their We-Have-Nothing-Left-To-Prove trilogy of In Rainbows, The King Of Limbs and A Moon Shaped Pool. Also, while we’re on the subject of In Rainbows, listen to ‘Videotape’ backwards, you’ll have a lot of fun.

Funnel Recommends: Go Slowly / Last Flowers / Up On The Ladder

Everything So Far – 2016’s Best Albums (So Far)

radiohead-new-album-a-moon-shaped-pool-download-stream-640x640A Moon Shaped Pool – Radiohead

Well, it was bound to happen, really. The best thing Radiohead could have done to meet the huge hype was to not do what was expected, or what was not expected. Think of it as a semi-sequel to Hail To The Thief and In Rainbows, effortlessly combining the acoustic and electronic elements that they’ve polarised so often and making songs that don’t directly say anything, but are subtle both lyrically and instrumentally. Saying less and making less noise might look like a cop-out, but they do so much with that new space. The roles of the Greenwood brothers are amplified, from Colin’s bass input on ‘Identikit’ and ‘Decks Dark’ to Jonny’s work on film soundtracks being translated to ‘Burn The Witch’ and ‘The Numbers’.

Listen To: Daydreaming

SAVAGES_ADORE_LIFE_Cover_grandeAdore Life – Savages

In response to the tight and tense music that their debut album showed off, Savages got louder and covered a topic that not many would associate with moody post-punk – Love. But the way Jehnny Beth sang about it; it was like a horror film with the murderer always around the corner ready to pounce. It was monolithic and feared, and even when it was accepted, it was on her own terms. A unique perspective only matched by the jackhammer bass and drums of Ayşe Hassan and Fay Milton.

Listen To: Adore

a3933351475_10Rot Forever – Sioux Falls

One of the most enjoyable debuts to come out so far this year, Sioux Falls went overboard on their 72-minute first impression. It had more than a whiff of Modest Mouse, but frontman Isaac Eiger specifically mentions making Modest Mouse mixtapes in highlight ‘In Case It Gets Lost’. It’s clumsy, chaotic rock music that spills over usual time limits and restrictions into making an album that matches Eiger’s lyrics. Plus, the drumming is great.

Listen To: In Case It Gets Lost

a0138284876_10Human Ceremony – Sunflower Bean

‘Easier Said’ is Sunflower Bean’s best song, yet it’s unlike any other. On ‘2013’, ‘I Was Home’ and ‘Creation Myth’ they blend hard rock with psychedelic music, but on ‘Easier Said’ it’s a pretty little pop song with Julia Cumming, bassist, leading the vocals instead of the band’s other vocalist, Nick Kivlen. It was probably a coincidence that Human Ceremony and Leave Me Alone by Hinds arrived around the same time, but both of those albums were genuinely surprising for debuts by bands that had been pegged into a certain sound. Apparently Sunflower Bean are good live as well, and they refuse to stop touring, so give them a go.

Listen To: Easier Said

mothers-when-walk-long-distance-new-albumWhen You Walk A Long Distance You Are Tired – Mothers

Mothers continue the flow of folk/singer-songwriters around right now, from Angel Olsen, Eskimeaux and Frankie Cosmos. It originated as a solo project from Kristine Leschper, but the full band backing gives ‘It Hurts Until It Doesn’t’ and ‘Hold Your Own Hand’ a life beyond quiet folk. Leschper’s voice is the centrepoint; an emotive and sharp performance that aims for the heart like any good folk music.

Listen To: Too Small For Eyes

todTeens of Denial – Car Seat Headrest

Here’s an underdog story waiting to happen. Will Toledo makes loads of Bandcamp albums and gets a record deal with Matador, puts out a compilation of his best tracks so far and then, on his first Matador album of original material, makes one of the best albums of the year (not without some copyright issues along the way). It might sound a bit like the resurrection of peak-Stephen Malkmus, but Toledo’s relentless self-referencing, concepts and dry humour are just what indie-rock needs to sound important.

Listen To: Drunk Drivers/Killer Whales

d5a30e2eHuman Performance – Parquet Courts

You could be worried about Parquet Courts easing into their cynical comfort zone, but Human Performance took some of the pressure off lead vocalist Andrew Savage and gave more time to the other band members. The extended jams mostly went out the window, and in came the Velvet Underground and country-tinged indie-rock, something that Parquet Courts always hinted at but never fully captured. They’re finally where they should be.

Listen To: Berlin Got Blurry

beyonce-new-album-lemonade-download-free-stream-640x640Lemonade – Beyoncé

No doubt an album that will be on many peoples’ year-end list already, Beyoncé topped her self-titled fourth album by heaping on more of that artistry and auteurism that Rihanna and Zayn Malik have hopped on. Beyoncé didn’t forget to leave out the big songs with ‘Hold Up’ and ‘Sorry’, but it’s the narrative that many came for. It became clear that Lemonade was about a break-up, whether that was a story or reality is yet to be known, but it made for a compelling arc. You could follow the story whilst listening to the best pop music right now. It’s the reason that mainstream and underground and becoming increasingly blurred.

Listen To: All Night

Leave-Me-Alone-575x575Leave Me Alone – Hinds

A record that should have been released in summer instead arrived in chilly January to start the year off strong. We were worried that Hinds were one-trick-ponies but when ‘Solar Gap’, ‘And I Will Send Your Flowers Back’ and ‘Warts’ came along with the hits it proved us wrong. It’s music to put on with the sun shining and not worrying if that verse was a bit awkward or they can sing pitch-perfect. Perhaps it’s the isolation from the self-appointed indie-rock headquarters of the UK or US, but Spain is looking pretty special right now with Mourn and Hinds spearheading some great rock music.

Listen To: Garden

Album Review – A Moon Shaped Pool / Radiohead

radiohead-new-album-a-moon-shaped-pool-download-stream-640x640

For much of Radiohead’s career, stress, anxiety and cynicism has played a part in their sound. They’ve been described as ‘music to slit your wrists to’ by one lovely presenter and it’s impossible to not contend that some of their finest music has been borne out of isolation and disillusionment. Since their split from EMI after Hail To The Thief, the albums that came out after that had the sense of a band with the weight lifted off of their shoulders. They’d made two masterpieces and whatever they wanted to do after that was simply enjoyment. But instead, they became innovators of music delivery. A Moon Shaped Pool doesn’t have the meteoric impact of In Rainbows’ arrival, but the band’s new means of hype creation: mailing their fans, disappearing from the internet, suggest that Radiohead isn’t going to stop teasing any time soon. It’s also now very difficult to think of Radiohead as a band, in which the music is the key centrepiece and everything else is just a bonus. Perhaps this was why The King Of Limbs didn’t all hit the right notes. A Moon Shaped Pool is conceivably the most subtle Radiohead release yet, trading in huge sweeping statements and musical moments for complex, innovative microcosmic pockets of sonic exploration that doesn’t hit hard like The Bends or OK Computer did, neither does it pretend to have the answers to the problems of the world. Radiohead mature with every release, and it’s only right that this album is their most nuanced and beautiful yet.

Jonny Greenwood has always been Radiohead’s secret weapon, right from his early moments turning ‘Creep’ into a noisy mess and right up to his side projects making film soundtracks with Paul Thomas Anderson. That experience, especially the soundtrack for ‘There Will Be Blood’ influences A Moon Shaped Pool more than anything else, where he perfected eerie horror with breathtaking cinematic strings. Those strings tumble across ‘Burn The Witch’, the orchestra-led first single from A Moon Shaped Pool, the jazzy ‘The Numbers’ and the beautiful ‘Glass Eyes’, which sounds like Thom Yorke guesting on a Jonny Greenwood track. Elsewhere there’s acoustic guitar-led tracks ‘Desert Island Disk’ and ‘The Present Tense’ with minor electronic patterns and drum machines; though no-where near the amount that The King Of Limbs did. Instead of going synthetic, A Moon Shaped Pool has an organic, earthy sound from the orchestra, Colin Greenwood’s subtle bass and even less guitars than you’d expect. But where those creeping elements crawl back in, they’re always well placed, such as the guitar solo on ‘Identikit’ which is probably one of the most emotive solos that Radiohead has written since ‘Bodysnatchers’. It doesn’t explode into action like ‘Just’ would; it gently works its way out of the chorus of Thom Yorke singing ‘Broken hearts make it rain’  and snaps back and forth as the rest of the instrumentation recedes from view, all to the credit of Nigel Godrich’s production skills.

There’s no one unifying concept on A Moon Shaped Pool. It isn’t tied together in a neat bundle like Kid A was, and instead pulls from several different strands to get a good view inside Thom Yorke’s head. There’s definitely a political and ecological side to AMSP, but it’s less pronounced than Hail To The Thief or The King Of Limbs. ‘Ful Stop’ stands beside ‘Burn The Witch’ as a track where Thom Yorke blurs between personal and political, singing ‘You really messed up everything… Why should I be good if you’re not?’ before ‘A foul tasting medicine / to be trapped in your full stop’. He sings from the position of the authority before personifying the oppressed, trapped in the ‘full stop’ of someone in power saying ‘No’. ‘Truth will mess you up’ is suspiciously similar to the response of the US government to leaks of their military information – essentially scaring the public into thinking that the information would terrify them. ‘Ful Stop’, like the instrumentation, is Radiohead refining themselves further and not dealing in direct messages – these songs have multiple meanings and even ‘Ful Stop’ could be in reference to a broken relationship where the truth of collapse would rather be ignored than met head on.

‘True Love Waits’ finally gets a release after being stuck as a live performance on the otherwise forgettable I Might Be Wrong EP. And, to be honest, it doesn’t hugely improve on Thom Yorke’s rolling acoustic guitar of the original, instead layering on several pianos, and though the recording is much cleaner and Yorke’s voice finally punches through, it doesn’t have the pace or the desperation of the original. Perhaps it is just failure by comparison, as hearing this version for the first time and not hearing the live version might have provided more of a pleasant surprise. The lyrics haven’t changed, and the simplicity of ‘True love lives in haunted attics / true love waits on lollipops and crisps’ drags Thom Yorke down to earth with his plea of ‘Just don’t leave’, which is still so stark and easy to connect with. It would be easy to draw lines between the sudden reappearance of ‘True Love Waits’ and a track like ‘Decks Dark’ with Thom Yorke’s separation from his long term partner. Whereas before on ‘Subterranean Homesick Alien’ he begged for a UFO to come an take him away, it’s now a darkness ‘blocking out the sky’, but the spacecraft is like an elephant in the room that is casting doubt on the relationship.

There’s undoubtedly paranoia running throughout AMSP, but you could say that for almost every Radiohead release. It might be doubt over a failing relationship, government, planet even, but it’s there at the back of your mind. But what’s so engrossing is that the music no longer reflects that paranoia like ‘Climbing Up The Walls’ did. It’s joyous even, making use of all of Radiohead’s experience in and out of the band. So why is it called ‘A Moon Shaped Pool’? Surely that holds the key to what the album means? It has ecological implications, perhaps it is the impact left by a meteorite left on the earth in a pool. It’s challenging, and confusing, and maybe it should remain that way. You don’t need to explain this, or draw grand conclusions about a wide message that Radiohead are trying to say. It’s a collection of tracks that doesn’t have answers. Sometimes that’s ok, and this third album in Radiohead’s ‘independent’ cycle is just another great example of the band not forcing concepts, but maturing into a band that won’t fade out as it grows, but bloom into a more complex, but knowledgeable, beast.

9

Funnel Recommends: Daydreaming / Ful Stop / Identikit

Track Review – Daydreaming / Radiohead

Forget ‘How To Disappear Completely’, forget ‘Videotape’, forget ‘Pyramid Song’. Radiohead have done beauty before, and different kinds of beauty too. There’s a painful glory to ‘Videotape’, but ‘Daydreaming’ revels in a surface level of beauty – white rooms filled with sunlight, daydreaming, blissful failure – whilst simultaneously making a barbed political statement. It’s a bit like ‘Burn The Witch’, where the lyrics are very open ended and possibly even more implicit than ‘Burn The Witch’ was. It seems to come from the point of a person in power, a politician, corporate giant or another authoritative figure for Thom Yorke to point fingers at. He’s mocking when he sings ‘We are just happy to serve you’ in his fragile and wavering falsetto that’s come to become even more of an iconic vocal than his early scorchers like ‘Electioneering’ or ‘Just’. He may have calmed down vocally, but he’s distantly angry in his lyrics.

The key quote I saw when I watched The Big Short was this:

‘Truth is like poetry, and most people fucking hate poetry’

…which was overheard in a bar in Washington D.C. The film was about the global economy collapsing due to a system of stupidity letting the housing market fall apart. I’m no expert, but I was angry that only one banker went to prison and the system was bailed out to repeat the same events. Radiohead tap into that anger with figures of power in ‘Daydreaming’, assuming the position of that figure, who looks down on ordinary people as ‘dreamers’ who ‘never learn’ and uses remarks like ‘beyond the point of return’, when they got us there in the first place. It might not be about bankers specifically, but that quote ties into the complacency of ordinary people to let lies wash over them for the sake of letting someone else do that job for them. Poetry can be eye-opening, but when it’s such an effort, why not forget it is there and move on?

The instrumentation is beautiful. There’s no two ways about it, it has the blissful electronics of ‘Kid A’ and ‘Everything In Its Right Place’ with the pianos of In Rainbows and the strings of something otherworldy. It’s like floating on a glitchy cloud, elements of the past and future fusing together by traditional and cinematic strings overlapping Yorke’s glitchy vocals and bubbling electronics. This is everything Radiohead have ever aimed for; bridging the gap between the old guard of music with the possibilities for the future. This could be Radiohead’s next classic album.

Track Review – Burn The Witch / Radiohead

WARNING: INTERPRETATION

Well, here comes a review of the new Radiohead single, probably formed too early and probably missing the point entirely. But we’ll give it a go, right? Someone called ‘Burn The Witch’ Hail To The Thief-esque in the comments section of the elaborate stop-motion video, and somebody else violently disagreed, but I can see where they are coming from. It’s got themes of societal disorder, gag order culture, possibly even some criticism of a society afraid to offend. It’s also got that same combination of natural and synthetic instrumentation that Hail To The Thief and In Rainbows captured, with stabbing orchestral arrangements that are some of the most natural that Nigel Godrich, producer, has ever captured. It’s hard to describe the strings, but they don’t even sound like they have been recorded, it’s like you’ve got your own private orchestra in your ears.

I think there was always a chance that the first taste of their new album would be disappointing, it was inevitable. Their huge reputation plus all the right signs was building an anticipation that couldn’t possibly be topped, but the outcome is actually very satisfying. Remember when ‘Lotus Flower’ arrived? Neither do I, but ‘Burn The Witch’ is nothing like anything Radiohead have done before (other bands may have done it, but that’s beside the point) unlike ‘Lotus Flower’, which pointed to Thom Yorke’s solo career and the band’s electronic flirting. By cutting off any influence whatsoever (at least in the instrumental department), it’s hard to gauge whether it’s great or disappointing, as there’s nothing to compare it to. Kind of genius really, or a very good mistake.

Ok, back to the lyrics. Possibly an ironic smirk at mob culture with the lyrics of ‘Burn the witch / we know where you live’ and ‘Cheer at the gallows’. It’s spooky in the way that ‘We Suck Young Blood’, a supremely underrated piano piece about the abuse of power. On the other hand, we could be completely wrong and it is a comparison of the persecution of witches to the scapegoats that society creates in order to keep the masses in place. It wouldn’t be unusual for Radiohead to comment on society, drawing comparison of ‘red crosses on doors’ could be about the persecution of Jews by Nazis, whereby they would draw stars of David on their doors. It has similarities with George Orwell’s 1984 novel, where everybody is watched, nobody even trusts their family and surveillance has clamped down on free speech. THEN AGAIN, maybe it’s just Radiohead’s fairytale. It’s pretty great anyway.

Classic Review – OK Computer / Radiohead

81ni71zIxIL._SL1406_Radiohead’s visual companion to OK Computer was Meeting People Is Easy, an hour and a half of Radiohead making their way around the world, introduced to so many cultures and people, but constantly on the edge of mental breakdown. You could almost get irritated at their vocalist, Thom Yorke, as he gets fed up accepting awards, playing their old song ‘Creep’ and travelling the world yet not able to slow down enough to enjoy it. That’s the crux of OK Computer. It’s about loneliness in crowded places, the technological isolation of the new millennium, the zombified masses accepting false cures to pre-constructed illnesses. It’s utterly miserable… and it’s gone 5x platinum in the UK. It wasn’t simply a matter of right place at the right time. Yes, it did coincide with New Labour coming to power in the UK and whilst Noel Gallagher was shaking hands with Tony Blair and there was an atmosphere of optimism, Radiohead presented the situation as ‘The old government have been replaced by the same one’. It also preceded many of the post-9/11 statements by bands who feared a tyrannical government using fear to enforced their own agenda. It was way ahead of its time, and it’s also lost in time. There’s elements of prog-rock in there (Dark Side Of The Moon was banded about as an influence), the electronic music that the band would later dabble further in on Kid A, and the alternative rock sound was punctuated with whatever else they could lay their hands on. It’s a strange, weird, excellent and multi-layered album.

There are so many tracks on OK Computer which have been called Radiohead’s best songs: the proggy, twisted ‘Paranoid Android’, the tension-and-release of ‘Exit Music (For A Film)’ or their more chart-worthy ‘Karma Police’, which is still astounding if you think about it. It has lyrics about Hitler hairdos and a man who buzzes like a fridge, completely contradicting the warm chord progressions. Our money, however, is on ‘Climbing Up The Walls’. It’s undoubtedly the creepiest track that Radiohead have ever made, and that’s counting ‘Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors’. The sounds that Radiohead create are somewhere in the middle of industrial and noise-rock, but the creepiness comes in Yorke’s voice. He’s not a technically proficient singer, but he’s always been able to contort his voice to the needs of the song, whether that’s his endearing howl on ballads or on ‘Climbing Up The Walls’, where he sounds like the wailing mental patient that he takes the perspective of. He sings ‘We are friends till we die’ and ‘Tuck the kids in safe tonight / and shut the eyes in the cupboard’, almost like a horror movie where there’s always someone over your shoulder. I don’t even think that Yorke is personifying the fear that the parent feels. The creepiest thing is that there doesn’t even need to be a serial killer coming for the parent – it’s the paranoia that will kill them. When he sings ‘Either way you turn / I’ll be there’, it’s not even a threat, it’s a fact that the mental illness will be there, even if the hallucinations aren’t. As any good horror film will show you, the fear of the audience comes from the unknown; not seeing the monster at all. That fear and paranoia is ten times worse than anything that the special effects department can dream up. The fact that the entire song occurs in their own home is the worse part. The home is meant to be a safehouse against the evil of the outside world and even if the physical evils cannot get in, the mental evils cannot be stopped.

It’s ‘Let Down’ that most matches the mood of Yorke and Meeting People Is Easy. He opens by reeling off ‘Transport, motorways and tramlines, starting and then stopping’ as the beautiful arpeggiated guitars soar around him. He combines the numbness of travel and success with ‘sentimental drivel’, his anger at being sold emotion by companies looking to make a profit off his emotions, only for him to be let down by the final product. Though Radiohead are often criticised for being miserable, ‘Let Down’ shows Yorke’s want to feel emotion, but it’s interrupted by the media trying to compete with what he ‘should’ be feeling for what he ‘could’ be feeling. The dual guitarists – Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien don’t get enough credit for how much they compliment each other, with Greenwood often taking ‘right-hand-man’ status for his ability to write sheet-metal industrial rock like ‘Climbing Up The Walls’ climax and then write something like ‘Let Down’s arpeggios, which he intertwines with O’Brien. ‘Paranoid Android’ is where the instrumental side of the band get a chance to outshine Yorke for once, beginning with the lonely guitar working its path through Phil Selway’s nimble drums. Jonny Greenwood takes over for the two guitar solos that completely obliterate anything in their path, but Ed O’Brien then joins Yorke for the goosebump-inducing bridge. Yorke wails out ‘The panic, the vomit / the panic, the vomit / god loves his children’. The unconventional structure sets it apart from the rest of the album, purposefully disjointed to tear up what might have been a good but unmemorable song. It’s prog-rock in the best possible way.

For an album that’s often a gateway to rock music, OK Computer is a multi-layered experience that reveals something new with every listen. Even the more subtle tracks like ‘Subterranean Homesick Alien’ and ‘The Tourist’ have some of the most interesting lyrics even if they can’t compete with ‘Electioneering’ or ‘Let Down’ instrumentally. OK Computer is perhaps the last great example of a rock band at their peak simultaneously rallying for and against that innovation. It has a sound about it that recalls Dark Side Of The Moon or Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Much like the car crash Yorke recalls on ‘Airbag’, the entire album is something painful that you can’t bear not to look at, because it’s so bright and dazzling. Though it tracks mental breakdown, loneliness and technology replacing human contact, it’s impossible not to listen and think how current it remains. Since OK Computer Radiohead tore up the rulebook further by releasing Kid A (The ‘connoisseurs’ best Radiohead album) and In Rainbows, which extended their innovation beyond the music and into the way that the music is delivered. It’s an album that stuck out like a sore thumb as Britpop was dying a painful death and grunge had become a fashion accessory, but that’s what has allowed it to age so well. OK Computer fears what it can’t touch – the paranoia, the government, the corporations, the technology. It’s the lack of contact that is breaking the world apart, Yorke fears, and we’re all falling for it.

Funnel Recommends: Paranoid Android / Exit Music (For A Film) / Climbing Up The Walls

The Most Anticipated Releases of 2016

In an effort to fill in some time when music dies down (probably something to do with Christmas), we’re going to be running through a few of the most anticipated releases of next year. Some are 2015 no-shows, some are records that have been in gestation for a long time, and some might just be random drops from more prolific artists.

Early 2016

David Bowie – Blackstar (8/1/16)

Something of a surprise after The Next Day was considered to be his swansong, Blackstar (or  if we’re being specific) continues where his last album ended, diving into experimentation once again with the jazz-prog first single, ‘Blackstar’ and the slightly less weird next taster, ‘Lazarus’. David Bowie really could release an album’s worth of cow noises and the people would eat it up, so expect it to get rave reviews. However, ‘Blackstar’ showed that Bowie could still innovate decades after creating personas like Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane that altered musical style with each release. Expect lots of smooth jazz and lyrics that surprise.

Hinds – Leave Me Alone (8/1/16)

For all of the disappointment we receive when Hinds make another version of the same song, they always bring fun and smiles to the serious face of rock music. Maybe it’s some of that Madrid sunshine bleeding through into their clunky but endearing style, which resembles more of a couple of friends learning how to play instruments together rather than a tightly-knit instrumental machine. This is definitely a band that wants to make you move, primarily, and everything else comes second.

Savages – Adore Life (22/1/16)

Even if Savages replicated the same moody post-punk of Silence Yourself, Adore Life probably would have sated the appetite of fans, but so far both singles for the album have been harsh, unforgiving and utterly gripping. The band have matured even further, with Jehnny Beth’s lyrics offering a light/dark perspective on love, Ayşe Hassan’s bass buzzing away, Gemma Thompson’s combination of soft and buzzsaw guitar and Fay Milton driving the band along on the brutal ‘The Answer’. They might just be the next greatest rock band.

DIIV – Is This Is Are (5/2/16)

We’ll be honest – Oshin did nothing for us. If you compare it to DIIV’s live sets, where they amp the pace up considerably, Oshin was sluggish, many of the tracks blurred together and Zachary Cole Smith’s vocals barely floated on the surface. That all changed with recent singles such as ‘Dopamine’ and ‘Mire (Grant’s Song)’, where they’ve become more dream-pop that shoegaze, falling into the territory of a faster, more instrumental Beach House. A lot has happened since Oshin to DIIV, but SI This Is Are should hopefully set the record straight considering all of the controversy and criticism that the band have drawn.

Animal Collective – Painting With (19/2/16)

Yeah, we didn’t especially like ‘FloriDada’ too much, but you have to admit that song was weirdly catchy. An Animal Collective release is always an event, and Painting With is no exception – it’s already been played in an airport. The fans have been calling it a return to their most successful records: Merriweather Post Pavillion and Strawberry Jam, but the hype could be what kills the record. Animal Collective have always liked to go off the beaten psychedelic path, so something weird and wonderful isn’t out of the question. After Tame Impala’s all-conquering Currents, the second-best psych flag-bearers have a lot to live up to.

Spring 2016 

PJ Harvey – TBA

So far she’s only teased a thirty-second clip and some live events (plus that special recording experience), but PJ Harvey’s next album looks to be another war-based record dragged out of the muddy heroism and futility of WW1 that came with Let England Shake and into a more modern setting. So far ‘The Ministry of Social Affairs’ and ‘Chain of Keys’ have been played live, both being entirely different tracks with ‘The Ministry…’  harking back to To Bring You My Love’s backwater rock. It’s probably going to be very political, more intense and win another Mercury Prize.

Rihanna – Anti – TBA

2015, when Rihanna did the least she’s ever done, was actually one of her biggest years. Her songs that she did release (‘Bitch Better Have My Money’, ‘American Oxygen’, ‘FourFiveSeconds’) were lightning rods for thinkpieces, worlds away from ‘Diamonds’ or ‘Rude Boy’. She partnered up with Kanye for her album and the single ‘FourFiveSeconds’ (which also featured Paul McCartney of all people) and made a $25 million deal with Samsung for Anti, which is a bit like what Jay-Z for his last album Magna Carta Holy Grail, which was swamped by Kanye’s Yeezus and doesn’t bode well for Rihanna if Kanye releases Swish next year if history does repeat itself, though Rihanna and Kanye are hardly rap enemies. Then again, if ‘Bitch Better Have My Money’ says anything, Kanye might have a hard time beating out Anti.

Modest Mouse – Whatever (Rumoured) – TBA

The long-gestating Strangers To Ourselves came out in 2014 to mixed reviews, with the lead single ‘Lampshades On Fire’ aiming for ‘Float On’s pop appeal and though Isaac Brock’s delivery was as wild as ever, Modest Mouse were still lacking what they haven’t had since The Moon And Antarctica – a fear of implosion at any minute. Their next album, a companion piece apparently called Whatever, or misspelt Wbatever features Krist Novoselic, according to reports and should carry on themes that Strangers To Ourselves brought, although hopefully it’s a lot better.

TBA

Kanye West – SWISH

What’s the point of even thinking about what Kanye might do on his next album? ‘All Day’, ‘Wolves’ and ‘FourFiveSeconds’ were entirely different, unlike the crossover indie-hit of Yeezus that took inspiration from Death Grips (though Kanye would never admit that). His last two albums have been detours into autotuned pop (thus opening the door for Drake) and industrial-rap, so a return to his beloved trilogy would only be a step backwards for Ye. Nope, everything from here on out is new territory for the most polarising rapper around. No matter how much you hate him, he’s so famous your parents know him, and for any rapper that’s superstardom.

Frank Ocean

He won every award going when Channel Orange came out in 2012 and  has been teasing music ever since, but Frank Ocean is yet to follow up the success of that album. It’s a bit like position Kendrick Lamar was in after Good Kid, M.a.a.d City; overcome with success and too much hype on his shoulders. Then he released To Pimp A Butterfly and that becomes the most important rap record of the last decade. Frank Ocean is in the same position; he has the ability to top it, but until he releases it there’s the issue that it might not be received as well. We’ll just have to wait and find out.

Radiohead

Being a Radiohead fan is hard. Bathing in a sweet new picture of Jonny Greenwood eating a sandwich is considered newsworthy at this point (slight exaggeration, but the point is there) but little spills out about the follow-up to The King of Limbs, which was a little so-so (watch the live version in the Basement, it’s ten times better than the album). Thom Yorke’s recent leanings suggest another electronic-influenced album, but Radiohead have always been a democracy so even poor Phil Selway will have a say in what style they dip into next. As long as nobody suggests EDM, we’ll be fine.

The XX

It’s been way too long since the XX released anything into the world. Granted, Jamie XX had a successful 2015 with his debut album In Colour and hopefully some of that summery electronica makes its way to the dark world of the XX. Coexist, their last album in 2012, was a bit of an anticlimax after their near-perfect first record, so hopefully the XX come back better with what they do next. It might also be important to say that if the XX rehash the same dimly-lit indie that formed their first two albums again the critics might not be as eager to slap on the five-star reviews as their reverby-schtick has been hopped on by everyone and anyone in the last five years. Jamie XX’s glossy side-project influences might just be what saves them.

Alice Glass

Some people are quite excited for the new Crystal Castles record, which in no way will be a Crystal Castles record without the presence of Alice Glass. Instead Crystal Castles other-half Ethan Kath has employed another singer to fill Glass’ role, called Edith Frances. But now Alice Glass has struck out on her own, releasing the pummelling ‘Stillbirth’ which is roughly 15 times better than anything Kath has released since Glass left CC. Glass has said that there is a sister song to ‘Stillbirth’ which is more of a ‘lullaby’, so don’t expect everything that she releases to be as brutal as her first song as a solo artist.

M.I.A – Matahdatah

Matahdatah is looking a whole lot more exciting after M.I.A. dropped ‘Borders’ late in 2015. She’s back to her politically-charged best, plus her instrumental strength continues to be as modern as possible with her incorporation of world music and southern trap-rap. Behind all of the intense politics, there’s a catchy pop song behind ‘Borders’ and ‘Swords’ from her audio-visual project that emerged in the middle of 2015. Call-and-answer lines like ‘What’s up with that?’ are meant to be played big at festivals.If Kendrick Lamar soundtracked the civil rights movement in 2015, M.I.A. might just soundtrack the ongoing refugee crisis and terrorism.