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.

Shuffle Everything – Vol. 6

We go full on Warpaint overload this week, not on purpose, mind. I have to make the heartbreaking decision between two of their best songs. It was like picking which is your favourite child, and I probably shouldn’t have done it.

Wall Watcher – Sunflower Bean

I can safely say that now Sunflower Bean have actually released a debut album, I like their softer songs. ‘Easier Said’ is one of the best songs of the year, ‘I Want You To Give Me Enough Time’ is heavenly. I remember hearing ‘Wall Watcher’ and being mildly interested in the album after hearing ‘Tame Impala’ on repeat for so long. It’s the heavier side of the band with fuzzed out guitar lines and buzzing bass. Julia Cumming takes over the vocal side, and though the chorus is infuriatingly catchy, it’s a bit plain. I think the handclaps that come along in the last half of the song are fun, and it’s interesting how they managed to marry that heaviness from the guitar with their poppier side that bursts out in colours on ‘Easier Said’

Joyce And Lonnie Fighting – Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein (Stranger Things)

Recently I’ve enjoyed hearing songs from TV and film and trying to find them online, and I’m especially interested if it’s an original score – try ‘Macbeth’ and ‘The Child Pt. 1’ from the Macbeth soundtrack, it’s like Godspeed You! Black Emperor minus guitars.  But everyone got a kick out of the Stranger Things soundtrack from Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein. You could pick any track from the soundtrack and be transported to a small town in 80s America, probably fighting aliens/monsters. The track is creepy and subtle, building to a climax that never occurs, but leaves you hanging. Let’s hope the duo nail the soundtrack for the second season.

Burgundy – Warpaint

love Warpaint, you may have noticed, or maybe not. I think their new album is the best thing they’ve done since the EP that ‘Burgundy’ appeared on, Exquisite Corpse. The song itself is also exquisite, resting on Jenny Lee Lindberg’s pulsing bass and a repeated guitar line that twinkles. The production is a little weird and kind of muddied up, so when the guitar enters at the beginning it sounds like someone’s put a pillow over the top of it. I have no idea if it was intended or not, but it helps when the bass enters, because your heart just melts completely. It’s fun to see how far Warpaint have come from ‘Burgundy’ to Heads Up, but whatever they do I’m going to defend to the death so they could make a rap-gospel album and I’d love it. Has anyone made a rap-gospel album before? The only thing I can think of is when Kanye said Pablo was, but only ‘Ultralight Beam’ was, and that was pretty amazing.

Red Right Hand – Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds

I cannot hear this song without thinking of Peaky Blinders. It’s a great show, but Jesus, they played this song to death. They even got PJ Harvey to cover it; never a bad idea. It’s the most well-known Nick Cave song, I remember the first time I heard it in the Jim Carrey movie Dumb And Dumber. There’s a reason everyone knows it, it’s pure undiluted Cave. Think of backwater America, looming vampires and murder and that’s what ‘Red Right Hand’ sounds like. The bell toll still sends shivers.

Warpaint – Warpaint

Oh hell. I was so happy Warpaint came along at least once, and now I’m going to have to choose between the two. The self-titled track came along a bit later than ‘Burgundy’, but has the similar post-punky vibe as that song. ‘Warpaint’ takes the crown though, purely because Warpaint had a release under their belt at this point and had a stable and talented drummer in Stella Mozgawa, who contributes to the explosion of sound around the 2 minute mark as well as bringing in a dancey swing that guided them towards the sound that they’re playing with now. The drums are mostly unaffected by the guitar-effect-swirl, which should sound weird but instead you get to focus on crisp drums or those twin winding guitars. By the time ‘Warpaint’ was released, Warpaint were the formidable team we now have.

Best Of The Week?

‘Warpaint’. I nearly did tried to remove Warpaint from the best-of-the-week equation mostly because they were going to top it out regardless, but I’m not a huge fan of ‘Wall Watcher’, the Stranger Things track is over way too son and I’ve heard ‘Red Right Hand’ way too much. ‘Warpaint’ works in so many layers, just listen to how Mozgawa goes crazy towards the end of the track.

Album Of The Week – Heads Up / Warpaint

whu

You know how Led Zeppelin are always attributed as the kind of band where each player is the best in their field of the time? Then there’s the original lineup of Pixies holding the corner for indie rock. Even the Red Hot Chili Peppers in their chart-topping prime have the four pillars that are unparalleled in talent. Warpaint (funnily enough, initially hyped for their association with the Chili Peppers) have come to represent that untouchable instrumental prowess, with maybe the best rhythm section going, compromised of Jenny Lee Lindberg and Stella Mozgawa. Heads Up is the album that they teased previously with their last two albums – and an excellent EP and collection of singles – but had detours down different routes that sometimes made for a more subdued version of what they intended. Finally, oh so finally, Heads Up is the dancey psych-rock statement that doesn’t lose its groove halfway through or disappears into sleepy R’n’B. Sure, there’s R’n’B, but it’s uptempo, buoyant and holds your attention – ‘The Stall’ is the upgrade to ‘Hi’ and ‘Biggy’ from their self titled album. In fact, most of it is a retooled, upgraded, funk-injected version of what Warpaint offered. Because Warpaint have always been a dance band, they just had to make the album to prove it.

The best Warpaint songs force you to latch onto an instrument for the length of the song and zone everything out, then move onto the next instrument, and the next, until you get the entire picture. Though in recent years the number of lengthy songs that they’ve written has thinned out, aside from the excellent ‘No Way Out’, Warpaint do slightly return to that longer tracklength on a couple of songs here, such as ‘So Good’ and the title track, with both stretching to five or six minutes. ‘So Good’ is an instant highlight, driven right out the gate by Mozgawa setting the tempo and some production wizardry by Jacob Bercovici, who sets the drums front and centre, making ‘So Good’ into the danciest track they’ve had since ‘Disco//Very’. The lyrics are about an on/off partner who the protagonist is almost dependant on, and contrasts ‘I’m going out my mind’ with the denial of the next line, ‘I’m handling it’. But the other side, the one who has the power, never seems to connect the way that Theresa Wayman, co-vocalist with Emily Kokal, conveys it. The guitars are way more subtle once again, providing a centrepiece in the gaps and bridges between verses and choruses. But it’s easy to latch onto the needling twin guitars that twirl around the drums and bass, you can zone out to the bass (provided by Theresa Wayman on a rare occasion), or if you’re like me, those crisp drums.

The psychedelic side of Warpaint appears in new ways. Instead of woozy guitars there’s woozy synths and electronics that blur into a haze with the bass and drums on ‘Dre’ and ‘By Your Side’, which has more hip-hop than indie-rock in its veins, though maybe the title of ‘Dre’ gives it away. The embracing of electronic music is smooth and weaves itself nicely into Warpaint, never sounding like this is Warpaint moving away from ‘guitar’ music, as they always slip in and out of sounds, making them one of the few acts around that defies genre within popular music. It’s very hard to define Warpaint, and it only gets harder on Heads Up. ‘Heads Up’, the title track, is a culmination of what Warpaint have done up to this point, beginning with the gloomy piano of ‘Son’ and the lo-fi vocals of The Fool (which at this point, sounds so far removed from Warpaint are presenting here), before Lindberg’s bass gallops in at full pace, a little bit like ‘Krimson’. ‘Heads Up’ – the song – does feel like a throwback to ‘Krimson’ and ‘Beetles’ with all of the time changes, guitar craziness and group vocals.

The album ends with a song Emily Kokal wrote when she was 19, ‘Today Dear’, and is much more in line with any of her solo work in that its just her and a guitar, but it becomes reinforced with bass, glockenspiel and ambient electronics towards the end. So, in the space of a song, Warpaint have transitioned from single performers, excellent or excellent-in-waiting in their field, and by the end, you have the rock-steady group of four that’s now writing some of the most interesting music around. Even in the lyrics, it’s clear this was written for a different time – ‘Today, dear / Today / I saw my blood drawn out / Saw my flood run dry’ begins the song. It’s one of the most beautiful things Warpaint have released, in the same lane as ‘Baby’ or ‘Son’. Heads Up is fully realised. It doesn’t dip in the middle like Warpaint tended to do after a few listens. Maybe it was the pace of recording that made Heads Up a more urgent release; they didn’t agonise over it like Warpaint. Maybe it’s just that they’re some of the best musicians around making pretty great music. We might not be able to label it, but we can enjoy the hell out of it.

Funnel Recommends: New Song / So Good / Today Dear

New Music – Whiteout / Warpaint

There’s so many sides to Warpaint at this point, that when they land on your favourite – mine lies somewhere between the danciness of ‘Disco//Very’ and the dance-punk of ‘No Way Out’ – it’s a special moment. If ‘New Song’ was the poppiest Warpaint have ever been, ‘Whiteout’ might suit fans of their self-titled album more. It’s more guitar-based, indebted to Jenny Lee Lindberg’s favourites the Cure with the strong backbone of a funky rhythm section. The song is stretched out, giving space to those guitar passages that made Exquisite Corpse most Warpaint fans’ point of entry, plus room for Lindberg and Stella Mozgawa on the drums to work around the spidery guitars. It’s less immediate than ‘New Song’, but that’s the intention. This second single rewards repeated listens and latching onto each instrument.

New Music – New Song / Warpaint

Warpaint either needed to go more dancey or more urgent on their next album if they were to follow up their sleepy, r’n’b-inspired self titled album. They needed something to liven them up. We got a taste of that with the one-off release of ‘I’ll Start Believing’, which suggested that they were experimenting with more immediate rock with a dreamy glimmer, but ‘New Song’ is all dance. Remember ‘Disco//Very’, a standout from the last album? It’s like that, point two. But the difference is the dream duo rhythm section of Jenny Lee Lindberg and Stella Mozgawa are playing a larger part once again, with Lindberg’s bass always being very forthright, but even more so in the context of dance music. It feels very 80s-inspired, like Lindberg’s solo side project has informed the band much more that it usually does, which isn’t a bad thing at all – she even has a larger part in the vocals, which is usually either Theresa Wayman or Emily Kokal. I can see some apprehension to the track for anyone that wanted Warpaint to return to a more guitar oriented sound, but experimentation was desperately needed. And experimentation is what we got.

The Rest of 2015: Honourable Mentions

Reducing a year of music into 25 songs and 20 albums is harsh. Not everything can fit on a very small list, but if they’re good why can’t they at least be mentioned? That’s the aim of our final list of 2015 – mentioning those records that nearly made it, but unfortunately missed out.

Honourable Album Mentions

Before The World Was Big // Girlpool

The ultimate simple-duo combination of Cleo Tucker and Harmony Tividad were best summed up on their debut EP, which had some of their strongest songs and Before The World Was Big felt more like an extended version of that EP. It was simple to the point of the duo just using bass and guitar and was recorded to feel like a dusty bedroom record. It has a warmth and intimacy to it, probably due to how direct and upfront the lyrics are. Listen to ‘Cherry Picking’ and ‘Emily’ for the best results.

Short Movie // Laura Marling

When ‘False Hope’ came out as the first single from Laura Marling’s new album, it was almost like a revelation. The rock-Queen in Marling was awakened; she was more aggressive and more forthright, especially compared to her excellent peak record Once I Was An Eagle, which showed Marling dealing in four-song suites which flowed into each other. Short Movie was more traditional in structure, but had a pop element in singles like the lovely ‘Gurdjieff’s Daughter’ and ‘Short Movie’.

How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful // Florence + The Machine

Florence + The Machine was the pop star of 2015. She replaced Foo Fighters as Glastonbury headliner (and did a better job than Grohl could’ve done) and came back from a so-so second album with How Big…, which was essentially a song-by-song showcase of Florence’s vocals and moving away from her old friend, the harp. She even got psychedelic on the last track, ‘Mother’, but the centrepiece was ‘Ship To Wreck’, her best single in years. Florence never sacrifices her eccentricities to scale the pop charts, they’re her strengths.


Jamiexx-InColourIn Colour // Jamie XX

If the XX are black-and-white, In Colour is a rainbow. That’s the way Jamie XX, who usually works on the beats of his main band, treated his first solo outing. It was a celebration of where he couldn’t go with the moody, minimalistic XX. Here he was allowed to throw steel drums where he liked, slip handclaps in easily and have a single that features Young Thug and Popcaan. There were quieter moments; his single with bandmate Romy was like a more danceable XX offcut, with Jamie taking control over the direction of the track and doing whatever he likes with it.

Foil Deer // Speedy Ortiz

Foil Deer didn’t have nearly as much replays by us compared to their 2013 debut, Major Arcana, but was definitely the more mature follow-up from the band. There’s more direct lyrics beneath the wordy poetry of Sadie Dupuis on tracks like ‘Mister Difficult’ and ‘Raising The Skate’, which equals ‘Tiger Tank’ for alt-rock single-value. The band didn’t cut down on the noise and Pavement-like instrumental interludes built-in to the songs, ‘Dvrk World’ and ‘Homovus’ being the best examples.

Continue reading “The Rest of 2015: Honourable Mentions”

Live Review – Warpaint at the Hammersmith Apollo 26/3/15

Excuse me while I fawn over Warpaint’s live show. After being rescheduled from November to March as the ‘final’ tour dates, the album cycle come to a close. In celebration, Warpaint play a hit-packed show which spans their 2 album, 1 EP lifetime and looks to the future with a smattering of tracks from the new release ‘No Way Out / I’ll Start Believing’ as well as some rarely played songs such as ‘Son’ and ‘Teese’. It’s more like a party than a gig, Warpaint don’t even have to try to get people dancing to the persistent ‘Disco//Very’ and the smoky ‘Love Is to Die’. There are people completely absorbed in the hazy magic that has enveloped the Apollo, their eyes fixated on the sirens up on the stage. Even Warpaint themselves are in their own little world, with Theresa Wayman (Guitar, Vocals) and Jenny Lee Lindberg (Bass, Vocals) occasionally getting caught up in dancing competitions and grinning at each other. Stella Mozgawa (Drums) opens up ‘Bees’ with a thunderous storm of drums, which explodes into the psychedelic and swampy guitars that laced first album The Fool. Songs are extended beyond their album format, with ‘Love Is to Die’ expanding into the extended version and Elephants turning into a sprawling freak-out. The jams give the songs a new lease of life and have so much more of a powerful effect live with the sleepy ‘Biggy’ from last years’ self titled being much more loose and funky live.

The encore is celebratory and starts with the first live rendition of ‘Son’, one of the highlights of last years’ album, with Emily Kokal (Guitar, Vocals) and Jenny Lee sitting down and providing backing vocals for Wayman’s somewhat ironic ode to having to leave her son whilst she goes out to tour the world. It’s a beautiful, slow moment that seems even more intimate than on record. Even Stella switches up her usual role on the drumkit to play the guitar. The energy comes back for new single ‘I’ll Start Believing’, which is even more insistent and punky live. There’s a false start and Theresa laughs it off to begin again, but at this point I don’t think anyone really cares. Warpaint ends with ‘Burgundy/Krimson’, a meandering jam that has a noisy bridge between tracks. Warpaint end by promising to come back when they make new music. Knowing them, that could be this year, or it could be in three years. Either way, it’ll be hard to live up to such a good gig.

Find our review of Warpaint’s last single, ‘I’ll Start Believing’, here

Track Review – I’ll Start Believing / Warpaint

I’ll Start Believing is the first of Warpaint’s singles to come out this year. It follows on from the announcement on Zane Lowe’s show that they would releasing a series of songs over 2015, which is surprising considering that they took four years to follow up The Fool with last years’ self-titled album. I’ll Start Believing is something of a change of pace for Warpaint, with the track throwing itself head first into a fiery and aggressive jam with the whirling guitars familiar for anyone who has heard Warpaint before. However, this time, the guitars and drums are more front and central, with a furious riff that sounds different to anything Warpaint have done anything before. It’s an angry riff, not like the moody, swampy guitars that have sleepily wandered in previous songs. There is a second when all you can hear is the riff and it’s a complete change of pace – it shows another side.

If I’ll Start Believing sound like anything Warpaint have done before, it sounds more like their The Fool album, with the vocals and instruments much murkier in the mix. But even then, the songs on The Fool were long and little jams in themselves, I’ll Start Believing is more immediate, not even three minutes long in fact. The song is tense and rigid in format, contrasting the looseness of previous releases. There is mystical chanting that sounds so close that they might be beside you and the song ends quickly, not melting into a jam session that lasts ten minutes. Warpaint just got fiery.