At the end of last year, about a month or two after The Last Round kicked off, I put together a pretty straightforward 2015 ‘Best Of’ list piece, to help get the ball rolling on the magazine’s ‘Arts & Culture’ side of things and to bookend what I felt was a pretty strong year in music. To mark the halfway point of 2016, and the growing number of readers and contributors the last few months have brought for us, we decided it would be much more fitting this time to branch out the authorship of this article to our ever-expanding support base. So here are the 2016-thus-far music picks from those who volunteered their writing skills, as well as some other great music releases that we weren’t able to cover, and finally a brief checklist of things to look forward to in the second half of 2016:
Rihanna – Anti (Peter McGoran)
Rihanna has had a difficult time shaking off the shackles of being labelled as an artless, cut-and-dried, sometimes-provocative pop singer, but with Anti she might finally have made her aesthetic credentials known. An album which can only be included in a “Best Of 2016” list because it came out of three years of development hell, Anti signals a departure from more familiar genres of club- and dance-oriented pop music and takes us into previously unexplored territory, incorporating futuristic R&B and minimalist song structures (the Kanye West influence is felt everywhere) with soul music and reggae. And while this can sometimes be as chaotic as it sounds, Rihanna’s vocals emerge triumphantly as the adhesive which holds the album together. Her voice has never been stronger and more confident and yet, on the latter half of the album, songs like “Higher” and “Close to You” show that she’s equally capable of sounding vulnerable and personable – sounding, in fact, like the artist she emulates in Kanye West’s recent single, “Famous”: Nina Simone.
While Anti might not be looked back on as Rihanna’s magnum opus in years to come, it by all accounts marks a new direction that will surely lead to more strong albums down the line. My personal favourite is “Same Ol’ Mistakes”, Rihanna’s compelling take on a recent Tame Impala song that comes shrouded in dreamy, psychedelic glory.
James Blake – The Colour in Anything (Chloe Gault)
James Blake’s album The Colour in Anything, released on May 6th, is a sublime piece of reflective melancholy dealing with heartbreak, desire, and loss. His haunting, unique voice coupled with his refusal to stray from auto-tune, creates more of the ethereal hues we have come to expect from Blake’s previous musical output. While not lyrically breath-taking, The Colour in Anything contains songs that are personal and raw, creating possibly his most emotionally intense album yet. Drawing on his past experiments in soul and R&B, Blake is making fresh electronic music using minimalist piano and subdued, mournful percussion. Noteworthy tracks include: “Radio Silence”, a song begging a lover for more time, stung by the thought of not seeing said lover again; and “Put That Away And Talk To Me”, a song reflecting on his dependence on weed to relieve the pressures of his creation. Bulwarked by Justin Vernon’s vocals on “I Need A Forest Fire”, and contributions from Frank Ocean and Rick Rubin, respectively, it’s easy to see why Blake’s third studio album has received so much critical acclaim.
Aphex Twin – Cheetah EP (Michael O’Halloran)
In contrast to 2014’s impressively complex Syro and 2015’s closed experiment, Computer Controlled Acoustic Instruments Pt2, this succinct collection doesn’t seem immediately innovative. The beats are largely linear and it opens with two four-to-the-floor numbers that wouldn’t sound too out of place in the small hours, in the 90’s, in Richard James’ native Cornwall. The mood in general harks back to the Aphex Twin of that decade (apart from the particularly Syro-esque CIRKLON3), as he continues, somehow, to operate simultaneously as soul-eating dark beat-lord and nerdy emotive electric composer. The inclusion of CHEETA1b ms800 and CHEETA2 ms800 (two tracks of sparse experimentation that clock in collectively at one minute, four seconds) is further proof of the widely-held idea that he really does have the clout to not only create, but also publicly release, whatever he happens to feel like. CIRKLON 1, for instance, is hung on this bizarre keyboard riffing that doesn’t sound far off an 80’s US cop show theme and is played over a backdrop with a real electro pan-pipe feel. It comes close to sounding really, really rare. But while not necessarily making big waves in the genre – or in his own canon, for that matter – there is something comforting and rewarding in picking over the familiar (and still magic) sonic scrawl of this old friend, and just finding out what he’s been up to lately.
David Bowie – Blackstar (Tommy Greene)
Blackstar, the final LP release by the legendary David Bowie, is a mystical and breath-taking stare into the abyss, as well as a fitting swan song for a glittering career in pop music. A follow-on from 2013’s The Next Day, the twenty-fifth studio album from the characteristically shape-shifting pop artist sees Bowie with a self-aware eye on the past, as well as a determination to keep on pushing his music into new, experimental and challenging areas. Ahead of Blackstar’s release, Bowie mentioned that Death Grips and Kendrick Lamar would sit among some surprising sources of inspiration for the record. Taken at face value, those influences might not be glaringly obvious, or jumping right out at you; but jazz, metal and strains of electronic music are all undeniably at work in a number of the lengthy set-piece numbers on this seven-track album.
Bowie’s looming death (he battled with cancer for over a year before passing away in January) is inseparable from the lyrics, themes and more or less the entire musical fabric of Blackstar. The singer sounds wan and weary on a lot of these songs, but also firmly resolute as the square look he takes at the end seems to come through in many of the arrangements and occult imagery employed here (as for the music videos, I’ll leave those for the aliens to decode). “Girl Loves Me” is a catchy throwback to some previous Bowie art pop in certain moments (some parts wouldn’t sound out of place in the period roughly spanning Diamond Dogs up to Scary Monsters), though it’s all given an added eerie twist. Album closer “I Can’t Give Everything Away” quotes the harmonica line from Low’s “A New Career in a New Town”, while at the end referencing earlier material in the proggy guitar work of the song’s coda. Touches like these might explain why Blackstar’s producer Tony Visconti called the album a ‘parting gift’ for Bowie’s fans. With The Next Day, I thought I was seeing the last solid effort from one of British pop music’s greats. This is all that and a lot more to boot – once again, Major Tom, we salute you.
Parquet Courts – Human Performance (Tara McEvoy)
Human Performance is by no means a flawless record, but there’s something compelling in how Parquet Courts manage to balance brio and brittleness on their fifth album, released back in April through Rough Trade. Andrew Savage and co. have gained a level of infamy for the production values of their LPs to date (the descriptor “unlistenable” crops up frequently in writing on their earlier work), but here we’re offered an easier listening experience. The Brooklyn bandmates keep it lo-fi, but on Human Performance, more than on previous records, there are also hooks aplenty – in the vein of the Velvet Underground, say, or Violent Femmes. ‘Berlin Got Blurry’ is a standout track, recalling the sounds of Wavves, Best Coast, or, closer to home, Sea Pinks, as Savage’s signature drawl rings out across a summery guitar riff. Unassuming but poignant, the album offers a series of snapshots of modern city living, and is at turns funny and moving.
Anderson .Paak – Malibu (John O’Connor)
Coming off the back of a string of features on Dre’s Compton, anticipation was high ahead of this release. Though not his debut studio project, this album has ensured Paak’s commercial breakthrough into the mainstream market. Amid a sea of Atlanta trap-influenced artists, Paak manages to draw in the listener with an original-sounding fusion of R&B, hip hop, soul and funk, which culminates into a consistent, cohesive album. It’s all rounded off with a raspy, charismatic vocal style (not unlike Kendrick Lamar after a cigar or two). Features span across vocal spots from The Game, Schoolboy Q and Talib Kweli, to jazz legend Robert Glasper contributing his unique key-work. Highlights include: “Am I Wrong”, a funk-flavoured track that will appeal to both old school James Brown fans and your well-meaning friend who over played “Uptown Funk” at parties; and the stellar “Without You”, featuring a verse from Rapsody, and production from 9th Wonder, with a fantastically well-placed jazz sample from Hiatus Kaiyote.
Anderson Paak blends the obscure with the popular, carving out a breakthrough album that appeals to both the masses and the aficionado, as Malibu packages a jazzy, funk-flavoured release that will stay in your rotation well into the year. For fans of anyone who is wondering when Frank Ocean will finally be back on lists like these…
Swans – The Glowing Man (Jonny Moreland)
The Glowing Man draws to a close a thread of experimentation that began with 2012’s apocalyptic The Seer, continuing into the pummelling grooves of To Be Kind. This album is a culmination of these efforts, resulting in Swans’ most cohesive album to date. While its colossal eight tracks, clocking in at just under two hours, may test the patience of many listeners, the broiling atmosphere the band conjures in tracks like “Cloud of Unknowing” burrow into the ear, hypnotising and lulling the listener into a false sense of calm before sudden rhythm and key changes pull the audience out of the sonic aether and into Krautrock-driven frenzies that build and build – each climax pushing further than the last. Elsewhere, the sheer power of the drug-fuelled din on “Frankie M” gives rise to “The Glowing Man”, a song that has its origins in the title-track of 2012’s The Seer, evolving both live and in the studio from bluegrass post-rock into a bludgeoning, spellbinding cacophony. The aggression, patience, and catharsis in this track alone are all testament to everything Swans can be. It may test patience, but The Glowing Man is worth the time and effort it demands.
Chance the Rapper – Colouring Book (Tommy Greene)
23-year-old hip-hop wunderkind Chance the Rapper returns after 2013’s wildly successful outing, Acid Rap, with his newest mixtape release. The form is one he appears to be making his own, and his commitment to the release format has seen him continuously refuse to bow to the music industry over the past few years – whether that’s been in refusing to sign major contracts, or not dancing to the tune of major labels and the expected corporate ownership of his music. Being unsigned clearly hasn’t stopped a host of big names lending their services for the record, though – Kanye West, Future, T-Pain, Young Thug, Jeremih, Lil Wayne, Justin Bieber, as well as a number of up-and-coming rappers or vocalists, all get a feature on Colouring Book. A few weeks back, The Guardian’s Killian Fox did a pretty good job of summarising how the whole thing provides an example of the DIY, self-starter ethos of the millennial generation in the music business.
Colouring Book is a lot of fun and on the whole very strong. Many fans have put it up there in the same league as Acid Rap – though, after a few listens it does feel like it’s lacking some of the killer verses that really made its predecessor, and it still has some bits of grizzle that could’ve done with being cut away. Also, one or two of the artists Chance drafts in for Colouring Book feel like they’re there mostly because of big-name status or standing, and don’t really seem to be adding that much of their own to proceedings. This arguably goes against the grain of his whole self-directed, not-serving-the-music-establishment mantra. But you have to remember this was meant mainly as a fun, laid-back summer and party record – excess kind of comes with the territory, and high-profile collaborations are potentially a direct route to the big time without having to capitulate to music industry middlemen. He may not be the only person out there who still cares about mixtapes, as his refrain asserts blearily on the song with the same title. Unsurprisingly, a lot of people have been impatiently calling for Chance to make an album – but when he’s putting out releases like this, who cares about albums?
ANONHI – Hopelessness (Peter McLoughlin)
Her first album of strictly new material since 2010’s Swanlights, Hopelessness is the ballsy – though, some might say haughty – new release by the ever-evolving artist, Antony Hegarty. Evolution is marked, firstly, in her new appellation, ANOHNI, as well as in her full embrace of electronic production for the album, and in the expanded, more global subject matter of these brutally honest, euphonic pop songs.
The titles of her two intervening live albums in the period between Swanlights and Hopelessness – Turning and Cut the World – indicate the thematic concerns and personal response driving things here. Four years ago, she sang: ‘When will I turn / and cut the world?’; Hopelessness plays like her first plunge of the knife. The album begins with a synth plea to “Drone Bomb Me”, then directs its righteous war horn towards environmental concerns on the song, “4 Degrees”, the estimate global temperature rise we’re expected to see over the course of the next century. “Watch Me” and “Execution” pulse and jingle respectively as they explore perverse government spy programmes and the use of the death penalty in the ‘civilised’ world. The album’s middle section fuzzes perhaps a little too dissonantly as it narrows its scathing criticisms towards the president of the United States (who ANOHNI addresses fairly bluntly: ‘Obama… spying / Executing without trial… All hope drained from your face’).
In a social media post made alongside the release, ANOHNI said the single “4 Degrees” was essentially about: “Giving myself a good hard look, not my aspirations but my behaviors[sic], revealing my insidious complicity”. Hopelessness peaks in the final third with the conclusions drawn from this introspection. Three imploring epics swell one after the other: despair at her cultural upbringing (for separating her from the earth); cries of futile apology on behalf of those who kill and torture; for one human murdering another, sensed in the screams of the hopeless refrain: ‘How did I become a virus?’ That’s the overriding theme in a line, too: the notion of humanity as a wilfully ignorant virus; self-mutilating, sustained by sucking the “Marrow” from the earth. When she sings: ‘I’ve been taking more than I deserve / Leaving nothing in reserve,’ she’s taking the knife to herself, but she’s asking you to consider what your worth is, too.
What’s not to like?
Beyonce – Lemonade (Tommy Greene)
The release of Lemonade has undoubtedly been one of the pop culture moments of the year, if as much for its visual broadcast events as for the album’s content. The LP aims to combine the personal and the political in its part-autobiographical narrative – which references her 90 year-old-grandmother-in-law’s championing of the plucky “When life gives you lemons…” adage – at times looking to wield a sharp polemical edge, and at others achieving little more than regular tabloid gossip. There’s an army of producers, writers (72 in all) and collaborators adding their bit to the album – James Blake’s soulful low key-work, production and vox, a verse from Kendrick Lamar on “Freedom”, and vocal input from The Weeknd on “6 Inch” ranking among some of the bigger names (did you ever think you’d see Jack White on a Beyonce record?). Possibly the best sleight of hand on the production front comes in the form of Diplo’s “SpottieOttieDopaliscious” sample in “All Night”, which is an inspired touch. These many high-profile additions all work together to make Lemonade a formidable effort.
Certain criticisms that have been made during the vast and prolonged media response to Lemonade’s release still hold true now: “[her] allegiance to Black Lives Matter lags safely behind the organization’s activist timeline, and her tendency to cultivate contradictory messages can be vexing” is one. And it’s true that the political charge of Lemonade can often find itself drowned out by the engulfing media spectacle generated through the album’s broadcast and surrounding hype. But if Lemonade does its bit to help shift the public debate further towards a more worthwhile discussion of some of the wider concerns it raises (i.e. not just idle gossip about her marriage rifts with Jay-Z), that can be no bad thing. As an all-round package, this is the pop record to beat so far in 2016.
The Stone Roses – All For One + Beautiful Thing (Andrew Doherty)
I know I’m technically cheating by choosing an album that hasn’t yet been fully released. But hear me out – I’m going to outline why the Stone Roses’ two new tracks deserve two-hundred words.
For starters, 2016 has been pretty grim (and the Brexit fallout has only compounded this saddening start to the year). Consequently, I think the Roses’ couldn’t have picked a better time to stage this, their latest resurrection. Some might laugh at the lyrics of “All For One”, with its fairy tale simplicity and Three Musketeers chant. But stifle those giggles, folks, if you can – for there’s a reason to this rhyme. “All for one/one for all/ if we take a stand, we shall not fall”. Amid the calls for solidarity over the past few weeks during the Brexit fallout, what message could be more apt right now? Though taking place over a month ago, this really sunk I for me after seeing footage of the Roses’ Halifax gig, and seeing the crowd there chanting these words in unison. It’s fair to say I was struck with a newfound appreciation of the track. “All For One” isn’t just a protest song – it’s a love song for the people which packs an unexpectedly hefty punch.
“Beautiful Thing” is a bit harder to take apart lyrically. But the fans’ desire for the classic Stone Roses sound seems to have been satiated. Clocking in at just over seven minutes, the song isn’t particularly radio-friendly. However, Squire’s wah wah guitar licks and Reni’s dance-infused drumming style hark back to 1989’s “Fools Gold”, which, I’m sure most of us will agree, is no bad thing. Brown’s floating – often out of tune – melodies and Mani’s grooving bass line make it sound like the track could have been a B-side from their debut LP. Even if it’s nothing else to anyone who reads this, “Beautiful Thing” makes me forget how shit life can actually be. So for now I’ll play the Roses and forget about my university debts, the prospect of future Tory governments, and the chance of being blown to smithereens at any moment.
Kanye West – The Life of Pablo (Tommy Greene)
From the Madison Square release party of this album (ran in conjunction with the launch of the Season 3 Yeezies), to the bizarre prolonged public meltdowns the rapper seemed to undergo on Twitter, to the constant album tweaking and edits made to the LP, and the familiar promo game of media-manufactured controversy that accompanied everything, The Life of Pablo has been sublime, ridiculous and above all erratic. And in that sense it’s been very Kanye West.
When The Life of Pablo hits its stride it features some of the best music of West’s career in multi-genre-spanning hip hop and pop music. The gospel-inspired opener, “Ultra Light Beams”, is as good a demonstration of this as anything else on the album. Though, it’s also plain to see in: the hazy “30 Hours”; the club-friendly “Fade”; the Madlib-produced “No More Parties in L.A.”; “Real Friends”; the Nina-Simone-Rihanna dovetail on “Famous”; “Father Stretch My Hands Pt. 1” and even the dubiously–titled “FML”. “Saint Pablo”, a track with Sampha that was added retrospectively to the album, arguably trumps all of those as well. You can’t help but feel the record would’ve ended up the better for a bit more editorial care and deliberation, and a few less sloppy tracks (of which there are certainly a few). But that’s not really Yeezy’s style. The Life of Pablo is more like a warts-and-all look at another one of Kanye’s perverse, plastic and monstrous American dreams. It and the portrait it paints of him are equal parts visionary curator-creator, egomaniac, and fame-obsessed charlatan – but he’s someone who keeps the show on the road, and so arguably merits the overblown fame and attention he admits to so desperately craving. Love him, loathe him or dismiss him outright as a personality – you can’t overlook this album.
Aurora – All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend (Sarah McCreedy)
Norwegian singer-songwriter Aurora’s debut album, All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend, is beautifully dark – in much the same way as Sufjan Steven’s mournful lament for his mother, in 2015’s Carrie and Lowell, was strangely uplifting. The record, which harmoniously blends acoustic and electric sounds, creates an eerie and affective ambience. Aurora’s beautifully layered vocals compel us to embrace a potentially uncomfortable realm, especially when she addresses her killer in the wonderfully absurd ‘Murder Song (5,4,3,2,1)’. Aurora attempts to challenge her stated belief that we are ‘afraid to feel’, particularly regarding anything that makes us ‘sad’, and reveals that this album is mainly about how ‘bad experiences from the past can be good memories’ (for more on this, see: ‘Into The Light’).
The end result is curious and enchanting, leaving her newfound audience dying to for more. Thankfully, the Scandinavian songstress assures us that All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend, my favourite record of 2016 so far, won’t be her last.
Esperanza Spalding – Emily’s D+Evolution (Thibault Barillon)
‘Pop’, ‘Funk’, ‘Soul’, ‘Fusion’, call it what you want – Esperanza Spalding doesn’t really care. Her main intention is, rather, to invite you along to a flawless party on Emily’s D+Evolution. The American bassist writes the kind of melodies that fit her unique voice and vocal technique, the centrepiece of this brilliant record. Supported with the sense of impeccable ease lent by a number of heavyweight sidemen, her fifth album oozes with confidence and maturity.
If we hadn’t already got the memo from Messrs Glasper, Bruner (Thundercat), (Kendrick) Lamar et al, that half a century of ‘complex’ music was to finally make its way back to a popular audience, David Bowie’s Blackstar set the tone in 2016 for a re-purposed, more intricate pop with the complexity put back in. Bright, vibrant, and fresh, Emily’s D+Evolution quite happily rides that same sophisticated wave. Correspondingly, it’ll come as no surprise that producer Tony Visconti has been at the helm of both of the pop music jewels of the year (up to this point). The album’s only real flaw, if there is one to be found here, actually lies in its own technical mastery: too perfect, adventurous only in its writing. Jazzheads will have hoped for more risk, sweat and dirt. But – if genres still matter – know that this record is NOT strictly a jazz one, and just enjoy the party.
Kaytranda – 99.9 (Tommy Greene)
It really has been a healthy year for the young self-starters. From the humble beginnings of an unofficial Soundcloud edit for Janet Jackson’s “If” three years back, Kevin Celestin has since played all over the world and toured with Madonna, as well as having leased out his production skills to a number of experimental (usually hip-hop) artists, including Talib Kweli. 99.9 is Celestin A.K.A. Kaytranada’s first full-length offering, released in May on XL Recordings (not too shabby considering he’s only 23…another young prodigy seriously making me question my productivity and life direction, sat here on my laptop at 2AM).
99.9 is a fifteen-track album incorporating hip hop, funk, soul and electronica to brilliant effect. Sounding closer to a Brainfeeder release than anything else I can think of off the top of my head (Kaytranada co-held a Radio 1 Residency with Flying Lotus in 2015, so maybe that shouldn’t be a surprise), the record features an interesting array of guest appearances from the likes of Craig David, Anderson. Paak, Little Dragon and BadBadNotGood. Single “Lite Spots” is fun, groovy and head-melting all at the same time, while the two-minute-long “Bus Ride” is a smooth, Dilla-esque instrumental hip-hop composition with gorgeous backing piano and string samples. The infectious “Leave Me Alone” is probably my favourite from 99.9, but it’s all of a pretty consistent quality. Some second-hand self-aggrandisement in the quotations of Kaytranada being discussed on air can feel a bit tedious and boring, though they’re far from being the most heavy-handed examples of that hip hop convention out there. Kaytranada’s grounding as a beatmaker shows through a lot on 99.9, which explains why these songs aren’t exactly club bangers – more like fun psychedelic numbers to nod along to. For its welding together of stylistic sophistication and a strong entertainment factor, it’s one of the year’s standouts.
Garbage – Strange Little Birds (Tyler McNally)
An unexpected positive that’s come about from the surge of digital music and streaming services, like Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal or Deezer, is the return of many bands from the golden age of music. I love trip hop, so for me, music’s golden age was definitely the late 80’s to early 00s. Bands like Garbage set the tone for those years, mixing string instruments, soulful vocals and trippy beats.
It’s for this reason and more that Garbage’s new album, Strange Little Birds, is my choice for album of 2016 (so far). It’s a great example of why Garbage are…well, great (don’t let the name fool you!). From the heavy beats of “Amends”, to the energetic drive of “So We Can Stay Alive”, the new album combines the old Garbage feel with a 21st century revival.
It’s also fitting that Garbage was never a band concerned with making people happy – instead their lyrics spoke to a generation who had just left the Cold War behind them. Upbeat moods and tones that surrender themselves to notions of alienation and human connection – all this makes Strange Little Birds a nice antidote to the constant stream of shite love songs on the radio (you know the ones!).
PORTS – The Devil is a Songbird (Rebecca Murray)
For the last three years I’ve turned to four songs at times when I needed to escape. During this time, I have craved Ports (formerly, Little Bear) more and more, and have been patiently sitting tight, hoping that the band wasn’t finished for good. Luckily, my fears have been proven wrong – now is their time. “Sunrise” is exactly how this album needed to start – it’s gentle, it’s ghostly (it’s a tease). I close my eyes and soak it in every time I listen to it…which is pretty much everyday. It’s a perfect way to cleanse yourself from all the trials and some of the day-to-day rubbish of modern life.
What I love so much about this band is that every time I listen to any of their songs something else catches me. It’s so easy to close your eyes and imagine yourself lost in their perfectly-synchronised, lyrical world. “Great Heights” is a prime example of this – there is a sense of forward movement and the feeling is like a wave that continues and carries you through the album. It’s also very clear that words and lyrics matter a great deal to this band. The album is poetic – steeped as it is in rich literary references to Yeats and Innisfree, it almost looks to make a pop-culture addition of its own kind to the modern canon of the Irish lyric (poetry and music both harking back to the same cultural tradition). The vocals which carry these resonant bits of writing are torturously haunting, but are counterpointed well by a soothing bed of strings.
This album makes you want to belt out the tracks yourself, at the top of your lungs. It’s perfect shower music. It’s perfect if you need something to fix you. It’s soothing and heart-breaking. It’s dark and deeply poignant. But, importantly, when it’s finished weaving its intricate path, it ultimately leaves you satisfied – making you part of its own secret pact. The band are currently touring. I urge you to catch them live before the secret is out for good.
KING – We Are KING (Tommy Greene)
The debut album from the all-female LA soul trio, KING, has without doubt been one of the most enjoyable from the first half of 2016. A seriously tasteful blend of soul, R&B, synth pop and hip-hop, the record is a leisurely and unhurried affair, but thankfully not one that loses its flavour for that. We Are King is served well by its varied instrumentation, super–smooth vocal harmonies, warm and fuzzy – quite retro-sounding – production, which all afford the album a lightness of touch to see it through some potentially repetitive and overly-languid stretches. Highlights include: “The Greatest”, single release, “Hey”, “Carry On” and the upbeat “Supernatural”. We Are KING is a brilliantly hazy, enticing cocktail – listening to it feels like entering a pleasant dream.
Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool (Tommy Greene)
The TLR verdict has already been delivered on this latest offering – the ninth studio album – from the ‘Head. Looking back, the Oxford five-piece’s online erasure, which anticipated the release of A Moon Shaped Pool, does seem a little cheap and gimmicky now, especially for a band who have found much more intelligent and resourceful ways over the years to disseminate their work to a broad and devoted audience (though, this hasn’t stopped countless woolly think pieces being written on the subject of the band’s ‘disappearing act’).
One thing a lot of the reviews have been pretty much right about, though, is the quality of A Moon Shaped Pool. And this is what really matters. In the main, it’s a mellow, melodic and full-bodied piece of work – more along the lines of 2007’s In Rainbows than anything else the band or its individual members have put out in recent years. A number of people have read it as a kind of break-up album (for Thom Yorke personally after a recent separation from partner of 23 years, Rachel Owen, and not for the band as a collective unit). Whatever’s been going on beneath the surface, the end result is both characteristically melancholic and strangely uplifting. It’s also one of the first signs of the band really taking a retrospective look at their career and beginning to enter into conversation with their own back catalogue. One of its highlights is saved until the very last, as the heart-breaking twenty-one-year-old fan-favourite, True Love Waits, finally finds a home on a Radiohead LP, with a slightly slowed-down tempo and new instrumentation. Jonny Greenwood’s tactile and judiciously-employed string arrangements still stand out as the main triumph on the album for me.
Some more notable entries made in the 2016 music log
Blood Orange – Freetown Sound
Drake – Views
Gold Panda – Good Luck and Do Your Best
Leon Vynehall – Rojus
PJ Harvey – The Hope Six Demolition Project
Jessy Lanza – Oh No
Moomin – A Minor Thought
Four Tet – Randoms
J Dilla – The Diary [Posthumous Release]
Bat for Lashes – The Bride
Massive Attack – Ritual Spirit EP
Jacob Collier – In my Room
Hinds – Leave Me Alone
Ploy – Sala One Five
BadBadNotGood – IV
The Avalanches – Wildflower
Róisín Murphy – Take Her Up to Monto
Terrace Martin – Velvet Portraits
Blawan – Communicat EP
Various Artists – DJ Koze Presents Pampa Vol 1.
Colin Stetson – Sorrow – A Reimagining of Gorecki’s 3rd Symphony
Mark Pritchard – Under the Sun
Julianna Barwick – Will
Roots Manuva – Switching Sides
DJ Metatron – 2 The Sky
Skepta – Konnichciwa
Kendrick Lamar – untitled, unmastered
Mitski –Puberty 2
Mr Fingers – Mr Fingers EP
Christine and the Queens – Chaleur Humane
David August – “J.B.Y.”/”Ouvert”
Laura Mvula – The Dreaming Room
Brian Eno – The Ship
Mikael Seifu – Zelalem
Sarah Neufeld – The Ridge
Upcoming Releases to Watch Out for in 2016
Frank Ocean, album – release date unknown
Sampha, album – release date unknown
Thundercat, album – release date unknown
Angel Olsen, My Woman – 2nd September
Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Skeleton Tree – 9th September
M.I.A., Matahdatah – release date unknown
Mykki Blanco, album – release date unknown
Death Grips, album – release date unknown
Danny Brown, Atrocity Exhibition – release date unknown
The XX, album – release date unknown
Floating Points, Kuiper EP – 22nd July
De La Soul, And the Anonymous Nobody – 26th August