Toronto quartet BadBadNotGood have been ploughing away for years now in the Canadian jazz and hip-hop scenes, bringing the two disciplines together with their predominantly instrumental wizardry. This year, their album ‘IV’ saw them reaching out for collaborations to jazz supremo Colin Stetson, Future Islands frontman Sam Herring and rapper Mick Jenkins, and its ever-changing mood somehow comes together to form one of the year’s most outstanding albums. The most ear-catching track is actually this collab with up-and-coming songstress Charlotte Day Wilson, and it saw them breaking into radio playlists that had previously eluded them. It’s a modern twist on the smoky jazz club torch song, and comes near the climax of the album’s extraordinary multi-genre running order.
As I write, the new Childish Gambino record ‘Awaken, My Love!’ is three days from release. It may well prove to be the last great album of 2016 if this lead single is anything to judge by. Pop culture polymath Donald Glover has had quite a big couple of years since his last LP – his show ‘Atlanta’ is huge, he’s been in blockbuster movies, and he’s just been cast as a young Lando Calrissian. He’d have been forgiven for taking it easy with his music for a while, but here we are in the midst of it all. He’s back with producer Ludwig Goransson, and you get the sense that the new album could be huge.
I love The Flaming Lips. I love them when they’re making Beach Boys sunshine pop masterpieces like ‘The Soft Bulletin’. I love them when they’re making impenetrable scuzzy psych jams like ‘The Terror’. I love them when they’re collaborating with Yoko Ono. I love them when they’re collaborating with Miley Cyrus. But what I love most is the anticipation before listening to a new Flaming Lips record. It could be any of the above, or, more likely, it could be none of the above. The new album is called ‘Oczy Mlody’ and it’s out in January, and this is a pretty stunning early cut. Can’t wait.
A little like Ty Segall or Thee Oh Sees, if you’re a fan of Parquet Courts, it can feel like a full-time hobby just keeping up with their release schedule. By their own standards, 2016 has been (at least so far..) a relatively quiet year for the Texas-native, NYC-based indie punks. Their sole full album release was ‘Human Performance’ and it’s another fascinating and absorbing account of coping with all the contradictions of the confusing decline of Western civilisation. This track is only included on digital versions of the album, but it is the most on-point and direct of their latest batch.
Temples announced themselves at the end of 2013 with their glitter-spangled single ‘Keep In The Dark’ (later co-opted into a cider advert). Their debut album ‘Sun Structures’ was an extension of that colourful psychedelic pop, but in the light of this new single and first taste of second album ‘Volcano’, those earlier songs seem positively timid. ‘Certainty’ is a leap for the stars, by far the most confident and ambitious release by the Kettering band so far. Warning though – it will follow you around for the rest of your week if you let it into your headspace.
“Why don’t you get a job, even Tarquin’s got a job, even Mary Berry’s got a job, so why don’t you get a job?”
Bristol 5-piece punk disgraces Idles open their thrashed out basement jam with this lyric-of-the-year contender, and get angrier and funnier from thereon in. It is big and it is clever. Their debut album ‘Brutalism’ will be out on March 10th, and it could be one of the most crudely enjoyable experiences of the next 12 months.
Over a quarter of century after emerging out of Manchester Uni clubnights at Owen’s Park in Fallowfield, The Chemical Brothers are still slaying the electronic music scene in 2016. They release music just rarely enough to keep the mystique intact and the quality top notch. Their last LP ‘Born in the Echoes’ was a triumph, and this standalone single from October is an absolute smash. Starting with a kitsch and potentially annoying sample of a crowd chanting out the spelling of their name, it soon dissolves into an avalanche of jungle beats and squelched synths. Some will dismiss it as a heritage act trying to stay relevant, but clearly if this was a new artist, people would be excited.
After the quick one-two punch of their first two albums, released in just over a year across 2012 and 2013, we were subjected to relative quiet from the former Joe Lean & The Jing Jang Jong boys for the last three years. They have undergone a line-up tweak, with Max Oscarnold from Proper Ornaments coming in to replace Alejandra Diez, and in the last quarter of this year, they slipped out their third record, ‘Clear Shot’. It is the familiar Toy sound that so many of us fell hard for first time round, and this track is the clear standout for me. They were always at their best when trying to disguise the fact that they had (again) written a beautiful melody, and the woozy, gloppy concoction that they have lathered generously over this one is not fooling anybody – Toy are still a brilliant pop band.
I was delighted to get the chance to spend a week guest reviewing the Fresh Faves over on the great Tom Robinson’s site Freshnet this October. There were several swell discoveries for me on it (you can read it HERE), and my absolute favourite was this little gem from West Midlands rapper Trademark Blud. It opens with a cheeky Winston Churchill sample before exploding into fluorescent, unshakeable, hook-laden hyperactivity, boasting Blud’s Del Tha Funkee Homosapien-esque flow and producer Tazman’s winningly playful production. Trademark Blud has already shared a stage with the likes of Dizzee Rascal and Talib Kweli, and with luck he’ll reach the far wider audiences that he deserves in 2017.
One of the most arresting videos of the year and one of the clearest declarations of hope and defiance in a year that needed it came from London quartet Savages. The centrepiece of their second album ‘Adore Life’ from back in January, it became a stunning finale to their 2016 live shows too. Their set at Manchester’s Albert Hall with the equally brilliant Bo Ningen might be my live music highlight of the year. Not many of their British guitar band contemporaries can keep pace with Savages at the moment.