Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 In Albums Part 3: The Best of the Rest!

PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS LIST IS IN THE OLD ANDY'S RECORDS ALPHABETICAL ORDER AND NOT RANKED. However, I have tried to highlight the more major works (at least to my ears) with **.

ABC - The Lexicon Of Love II (Virgin EMI) 
In an era of nostalgia, sometimes you have to look back in order to move forwards - opulent and delightful in keeping with the spirit of the original.

Alasdair Roberts and James Green - Plaint of Lapwing (Clay Pipe Music)
A rewarding collaborative folk project that serves as an intriguing addendum to Roberts' consistently excellent catalogue.

**Alexis Taylor - Piano (Moshi Moshi)**
Taylor's songwriting skills in the clearest possible relief.

Allen Toussaint - American Tunes (Nonesuch) 
Final statement from an American master.

Allison Miller's Boom Tic Boom - Otis Was A Polar Bear (The Royal Potato Family) 
Inspired by the arrival of her first child, this excellent album gathers together some of my favourite musicians currently at work in the US - violinist Jenny Scheinman (Bill Frisell), bassist Todd Sickafoose (Anais Mitchell), clarinetist Ben Goldberg, pianist Myra Melford. It's every bit as good as you'd expect it to be.

American Football - American Football (Wichita)
For me, one of the year's most unexpected albums. Is this really 'emo'? It feels a good deal more intricate and cerebral than most of what I associated with that word. I may need to rethink some prejudices!

Anderson .Paak - Malibu (Steel Wool/OBE/Art Club)
Expansive, multi-faceted psychedelic hip hop soul.

**Andre Canniere - The Darkening Blue (Whirlwind)**
A beautiful, deeply rewarding album finding strong musical settings for Rilke poetry. Canniere's rich, emotive compositions work well with Brigitte Beraha's sublime vocals and the improvisation enhances the strength of feeling throughout.

Andrew Cyrille Quartet - The Declaration of Musical Independence (ECM) 
Brilliantly fluid music successfully escaping the trappings of metric pulse. Cyrille explores a John Coltrane piece as a snare drum narrative, and elsewhere his band members perform in dedication to him, punctuating collaborative improvisations that are rich in insight and imagination. Probably the best album of 2016 to feature Bill Frisell too.

Andy Stott - Too Many Voices (Modern Love) 
More compelling, detached, mechanistic and disorientating murk from Stott.

Angel Olsen - My Woman (Jagjaguwar)
Swooning, passionate songwriting; songs of longing and resistance.

Animal Collective - Painting With (Domino) 
As ever, straddling the boundary between sugary lysergic genius and wildly irritating - and this time mostly back on the right side of the line!

Anna Meredith - Varmints (Moshi Moshi)
Parping and fizzing contemporary composition.

**Anohni - Hopelessness** (Rough Trade) 
It's felt for some time that the artist formerly known as Anthony Hegarty needed a new context for that extraordinary voice. This is it. Coupled with characteristic striking honesty, particularly in terms of fears for social justice and the environment, this new electronic world is intense and overwhelming.

Aphex Twin - Cheetah (Warp)
Modest but still impressive extended EP.

Autechre - Elseq 1-5 (Warp)
Just in case you didn't have enough Autechre in your life - here's a lifetime's worth in one surprise release...

Avalanches - Wildflower (XL)
The jaunty joviality of Frankie Sinatra thankfully proved misleading - the rest of Wildflower is an absorbing and inventive sound collage.

Aziza - Aziza (Dare 2) 
Ostensibly a new band, but the core of Dave Holland, Chris Potter and Eric Harland have worked together over many years. The addition of Lionel Loueke, a gloriously versatile guitarist from Benin (and then later Ivory Coast and France) who was worked with Terence Blanchard and Herbie Hancoc, is an inspired choice for this groove heavy music.

Badbadnotgood - IV (Innovative Leisure)
Beyond Snarky Puppy and Kamasi Washington, there are others pursuing similarly open-minded, free flowing paths through a contemporary jazz landscape.

Basia Bulat - Good Advice (Secret City)
A highlight of the live music year was hearing quirky singer-songwriter Basia Bulat cover Leonard Cohen's Ain't No Cure For Love at Village Underground. With production from Jim James, this is a delightful evolution for Bulat, with rich accompaniment and a fully realised sound.

Ben Wendel - What We Bring (Motema)
The saxophonist and co-leader of Kneebody makes one of his strongest statements to date. The album's dedications (John Coltrane, Austin Peralta, Ahmad Jamal, Wye Oak) bring home the range of Wendel's influences and the music is both informed and intuitive, intricate and immediate.

Beyonce - Lemonade (RCA) 
Where art and commerce meet.

Bill Frisell - When You Wish Upon A Star (Okeh) 
Empathetic readings of film soundtrack work from the great guitarist - a relatively minor work, but still full of beauty and insight.

Billy Bragg and Joe Henry - Shine A Light: Field Recordings From The Great American Railroad (Cooking Vinyl) 
This is the sort of meeting of minds that works so well, it's hard to believe it hasn't happened before. With an obvious precursor in Bragg's work with Wilco on the Woody Guthrie songbook, this is a dusty, soulful delight.

**Bitchin' Bajas and Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - Epic Jammers and Fortunate Little Ditties (Domino)**
A fantastically surprising and unexpected collaboration, but one that results in something truly inspired. This semi-improvised work, incorporating text from fortune cookies ('may life throw you a pleasant curve') and the Bajas' hypnotic droning, is mysterious and otherworldly, in contrast with the earthier nature of Will Oldham's other work.

Bon Iver - 22, A Million (Jagjaguwar)
There's no doubt that this is an overthought and over processed work - but, particularly when Vernon lays off the obfuscating effects and tricks, it still contains moments of clarity and beauty. Also, Colin Stetson's saxophones are great throughout, helping to make the music sound distinctly odd at times.

Brad Mehldau - Blues and Ballads (Nonesuch)
Mehltau eschews originals for this release in favour of two selections from the Great American Songbook, Buddy Johnson's Since I Fell For You, two Paul McCartney tunes, a selection from Charlie Parker and a piece from Jon Brion. It's an odd mix of the very well known and the slightly esoteric, but the playing finds intriguing connections between the work and brings it all to glorious life.

Brian Eno - The Ship (Warp) 
A ghostly ambient work unusually incorporating Eno's voice and one of his best works in some time.

Cass McCombs - Mangy Love (ANTI)
Cass McCombs' most consistent album by some distance - eschewing some of his customary looseness and waywardness in favour of a slick, rhythmically crisp band sound and strong production values.

Childish Gambino - "Awaken, My Love!" (Caroline International)
Donald Glover has had a remarkable year, with his excellent TV anti-comedy Atlanta and this brilliant left-turn of an album, veering into psychedelic soul territory.

Chris Abrahams - Fluid To The Influence (Room40/Forced Exposure)
Cold but fascinating and minimal solo work from The Necks pianist.

Chris Forsyth and The Solar Motel Band - The Rarity Of Experience Pts 1 and 2 (No Quarter) 
The guitarist continues his incandescent channeling of the improvisatory values shared by the likes of Richard Thompson and Television.

Chris Robinson Brotherhood - Any Way You Love, We Know How You Feel (Megaforce)
Line-up changes have not unsettled this adaptable band (lead by the Black Crowes singer and greatly enhanced by the guitar contributions of Neal Casal) but have merely entrenched their ability to embrace spontaneity and exposition.

Christian Fennesz and Jim O' Rourke - It's Hard For Me To Say I'm Sorry (Editions Mego)
Ongoing collaboration continues to produce intoxicating, shimmering delights.

Christine and the Queens - Chaleur Humaine (Because)
It's a rare delight when the mainstream embraces something this thrillingly weird - a visually and sonically enticing combination of infectious pop hooks, high concept and performance art.

Cian Nugent - Night Fiction (Woodsist)
This is Nugent's third album, but the first time where he has refocused around his voice, explicitly writing songs rather than instrumental pieces. He does this with impressive confidence, and without losing the freewheeling spirit of his instrumental work.

Circuit Des Yeux - Jackie Lynn (Thrill Jockey)
Jackie Lynn is an alter ego for Circuit Des Yeux's Hayley Fohr and the album is now tending to be credited to Lynn as an artist too.

**Claire M Singer - Solas (Touch)**
Claire M Singer is a composer, organist, cellist and music director at the Union Chapel in North London and this is her first album, a set of recordings spanning 14 years of her work.

Common - Black America Again (Def Jam/Universal) 
Common's 11th album is righteous, angry and politically engaged, one of his more confrontational and attacking works.

Dani Siciliano - Dani Siciliano (Circus Company)
Nuanced and sophisticated pop music; sometimes introspective, always thoughtful.

Daniel Bachman - Daniel Bachman (Three Lobed) 
Daniel Bachman continues to mine a fertile seam in solo guitar work, particularly on 'Brightleaf Blues', two tracks of the same name bookending this collection with drones, scrapes and other abrasions. His work here, deftly manipulating blues and folk traditions, is sometimes reminiscent of Bill Orcutt or Derek Bailey.

**Daniel Lanois - Goodbye To Language (ANTI)**
Both a majestic celebration of the pedal steel guitar (with collaborator Rocca De Luca on lap steel) and a deeply surprising manipulation of a traditional instrument into a source of ambient sound.

Dawn Richard - Redemption (Local Action/Our Dawn Entertainment) 
After the disaster of the attempted Danity Kane reunion, Dawn Richard refocuses on her more fulfilling solo career - here is another instalment of arresting retrofuturist, vocoderised pop soul.

**De La Soul - And The Anonymous Nobody (AOI)**
Even now, people still seem keener to memorialise De La Soul for their one over-arching success (1989's 3 Feet High and Rising) rather than take note of the exceptional music they are still making. This is one of their finest albums, increasing the emphasis on live instrumentation and groove, whilst retaining the distinctive, imaginative wordplay.

Deerhoof - The Magic (Upset The Rhythm)
This almost feels like a regression for Deerhoof, albeit an intriguing one, towards a rawer, more abrasive sound.

Demdike Stare - Wonderland (Modern Love)
In spite of its title, this seems coarser, harsher and more percussive from Demdike Stare. It's rough surfaces are challenging but effective, and when light is allowed through the cracks, it's euphoric.

Dexys - Let The Record Show: Dexys Do Irish and Country Soul 
The covers album 'My Beauty' should have been.

Dinosaur Jr. - Give A Glimpse Of What Yer Not (Jagjaguwar) 
Terrifyingly, the reformed Dinosaur Jr. have now been in operation for longer than the band's original incarnation. This fourth album of the reunion era is one of their sharpest and most powerful.

Donny McCaslin - Beyond Now (Motema)
Saxophonist with Maria Schneider and David Bowie (Blackstar) unleashes a dexterous, virtuosic solo album filled with energy and taut grooves, including fitting tributes to Bowie.

Drive By Truckers - American Band (ATO) 
The umpteenth album from the umpteenth line-up, still startlingly effective channeling of southern rock tropes.

Ectoplasm Girls - New Feeling Come (iDEAL Recordings) 
Music that, appropriately enough, sounds like traces of ghosts.

Elliott Galvin Trio - Punch (Edition)
Imaginative, quirky deconstruction of piano trio tropes.

Elysia Crampton - Elysia Crampton Presents Demon City (Break World) 
Vivid, brilliantly realised set of electronic collage collaborations with the likes of Rabit, Lexxi and Chino Amobi.

**Elza Soares - A Mulher Do Fin do Mundo (Mais Um Discos)**
I think this would have made the top 50 had it crossed my radar a little earlier. Brazilian legend teams up with some of Sao Paolo's finest experimental musicians for a novel and enthralling samba-noise hybrid.

Erik Friedlander - Rings (SkipStone) 
The cello is one of the most versatile of acoustic instruments and Erik Friedlander remains one of the most versatile of its top practitioners. On Rings, he explores cycles, minimalism and repetition with sensitivity as well as intelligence.

Esperanza Spalding - Emily's D+Evolution (Concord Music) 
Esperanza Spalding may have long ago abandoned the musical characteristics of jazz, but she has retained a conceptual approach, a structural complexity (her often linear song-based compositions are elaborate and flighty) and an impressive dynamic range. Sung through the vehicle of a new alter-ego, Emily, who represents a spirit fighting for high minded values, Emily's D+Evolution is a turbulent and exciting listen. High risk musical gymnastics abound.

Fatima Al Qadiri - Brute (Hyperdub)
Fatima Al Qadiri's compellingly cold, sometimes clinical electronica has a disturbing, perhaps even portentous undertow to it. Brute intends to celebrate the right to protest, although the vaguely ominous nature of much of the music suggests the protest is directed at something faceless and unknowable.

Field Music - Commontime (Memphis Industries)
More angular, quirky and compelling alterna-pop from the dependable Brewis brothers. Commontime is more tightly focused than its recent predecessors, but no less enjoyable for this.

Fini Bearman - Burn The Boat (Two Rivers)
Having previously served up a lush reimagining of Porgy and Bess, resourceful vocalist Fini Bearman turns her attention to her own considerable skills as a singer-songwriter. The music is melodically adventurous, while the arrangements bravely incorporate effects and electronics alongside the controlled expression of acoustic jazz players. Operating in a similar hinterland to Becca Stevens, this is richly imagined song craft.

Freakwater - Scheherazade (Bloodshot) 
Highly welcome return from these treasured outliers of alternative country.

Gaika - Security (Mixpak)
Gaika - Spaghetto (Warp) 
Mixtape and extended EP from lone sonic adventurer and poetic and provocative chronicler of London living.

Gerard Presencer - Groove Travels (Edition)
The acclaimed trumpeter and educator joins forces with the Danish Radio Big Band for an expansive, vivid and memorable set. Presencer's bright, clear sound is a joy.

Glenn Jones - Fleeting (Thrill Jockey) 
Fahey, Basho and Kottke influenced solo guitar (and banjo) from a master of his craft.

Goat - Requiem (Rocket Recordings) 
More slow burning ritualistic psychedelic wonders from the masked and anonymous group.

Gregory Porter - Take Me To The Alley (Decca Record France) 
Porter won't win any prizes for innovation, but it's not hard to see why his cool and assured vocal phrasing makes him such a big hit with audiences, especially when delivering story-songs of this quality. His strongest set since Water.

Harris Eisenstadt - Old Growth Forest (Clean Feed) 
With writing kept to a minimum and plenty of unpredictable open improvising, working with Tony Malaby has clearly galvanised Eisenstadt. This is an abstracted, gloriously textured set.

Hope Sandoval and The Warm Inventions - Until The Hunter (Tendril Tales)
Sandoval's ethereal, almost passive vocal style is an individual delight - it's a shame these albums are so infrequent.

**Horse Lords - Interventions (Northern Spy)**
Working with an ostensibly conventional rock line-up but veering into jarring weirdness through use of odd time signatures, metric modulations and microtonal intervals, Horse Lords have made one of the year's strangest and most mischievous albums.

**Huerco S - For Those Of You Who Have Never (And Also Those Who Have) (Probito)**
The Kansas City producer makes a brilliantly immersive album of beatless ambient electronica.

**Huw V Williams - Hon (Chaos Collective)** 
Double bassist and composer, and part of the Chaos Collective alongside Laura Jurd and others, Huw V Williams is already an assured composer and arranger. This album is both quirky and punchy.

Imarhan - Imarhan (City Slang) 
Another Tuareg band, Imarhan translates as 'the ones I care about'. The music here feels softer and more vulnerable than peers Tinariwen or Tamikrest, but it's also lightly insidious too.

**Ingrid and Christine Jensen - Infinitude (Whirlwind)**
An album of deceptive calm and luminous beauty, the Canadian sisters bring a natural and unforced blend to their frontline here, as well as clear, articulate improvising and a graceful, agile ensemble sound.

**Itasca - Open To Chance (Paradise of Bachelors)**
Delicate, subtle songs with graceful finger picking and nuanced ensemble brush strokes. In the same mould as The Weather Station.

Jacob Collier - In My Room (Membran)
YouTube boy wonder and Quincy Jones protege makes good with dazzling demonstration of his individual grasp of vocal harmony and multi-instrumentalist skills.

Jasper Høiby - Fellow Creatures (Edition)
Solo album from the Phronesis mainman. In some ways, I enjoyed this more than this year's Phronesis record for its more tangential, less familiar explorations and broader canvas arrangements.

Jason Rebello - Held (Edition)
Partly due to his own considerable success (both as a bandleader and working with Sting and others), Jason Rebello has recorded relatively infrequently by jazz standards. This return to more personal writing and improvising in a solo context feels relaxed and intuitive.

Jeff Parker - The New Breed (International Anthem)
Tortoise guitarist explores more personal concerns on this cerebral, rigorous but nonetheless exciting set.

Jenny Hval - Blood Bitch (Sacred Bones) 
Probably Hval's most distinctive and provocative solo work to date.

Jessica Sligter - A Sense Of Growth (Hubro)
It's hard to see why Jessica Sligter isn't acknowledged or discussed more - she is an individual, eccentric and imaginative singer.

Jessy Lanza - Oh No (Hyperdub)
Once again working with Junior Boys' Jeremy Greenspan, Lanza's follow up to Pull My Hair Back is less ostensibly minimal and seductive. Instead, it is a more kaleidoscopic work, embracing club energy, post-celebration anxiety and playful irony.

Jim James - Eternally Even (ATO/Capitol)
Jim James often seems to obfuscate his key strengths with production trickery these days, but Eternally Even finds a good balance between the resources of the studio and James' skills as a more traditional writer.

John Martin - The Hidden Notes - Spirit Of Adventure (F-IRE)
Experimenting with multiphonics, John Martin has made a very contemporary, very informed album celebrating the possibilities of the saxophone and in collective improvisation.

Jonathan Silk - Fragment (Stoney Lane)
Confident and assured big band work from Birmingham-based drummer and composer.

Josef Leimberg - Astral Progressions (World Galaxy/Astral Pup) 
Astral/spiritual jazz fusion throwback.

Josephine Foster - No More Lamps In The Morning (Fire America) 
Concise and focused set for the expressive, theatrical American folk singer.

Juan Atkins and Moritz Von Oswald - Juan Atkins and Moritz Von Oswald Present Borderland: Transport (Tresor)
Released to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Berlin's Club Tresor, this second collaboration between two electronic pioneers is foreboding and fascinating.

**Julianna Barwick - Will (Dead Oceans)**
Julianna Barwick's layered, rapturous constructions continue to enthrall and enchant, this time with some unexpected (and mostly successful) developments in additional instrumentation and texture.

Junior Boys - Big Black Coat (City Slang)
It's hard to believe that it's been five years since the last Junior Boys record. Whilst the preoccupations don't seem to change substantially between albums, they do evolve in subtle ways - melodic and enthralling electro pop.

**Ka - Honor Killed The Samurai (Iron Works)** 
Still one of the most radical and interesting rap artists currently at work.

**Kadhja Bonet - The Visitor (Fat Possum)**
Weird and wonderful - like Erykah Badu jamming with The Flaming Lips.

Kaia Kater - Nine Pin (Maevens Music) 
Recorded in one day, this wonderful collection of modern day folk songs is immediate and intuitive.

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith and Suzanne Ciani - FRKWYS Vol 13: Sunergy (RVNG International)
Another excellent collaboration in the FRKWYS series between an established ambient electronic pioneer and a potential innovator.

Karl Blau - Introducing... (Bella Union) 
A reminder that albums of covers and interpretations can be every bit as revitalising and refreshing as all-original works.

Kate Bush - Before The Dawn (Fish People)
It's slightly irritating, particularly given the theatrical nature of the show, that this has been an audio-only release rather than the promised DVD/Blu Ray. Perhaps that has been junked, perhaps it is coming later (there has been no clear statement on future plans). Still, Before The Dawn as an audio document serves to remind just how brilliant the opening seven song mini-set was, when the incredible band were really allowed to exhibit their skills and the crowd energy was high. The suites inevitably fare less well in this context, although the nuances of the playing in the Aerial set are also notable.

Kate Carr - I Had Myself A Nuclear Spring (Rivertones)
Enthralling field recordings of the river, by a nuclear power station at Nogent-sur-Seine.

Kate Jackson - British Road Movies (Hoo Ha)
Long awaited solo album from main songwriting presence in The Long Blondes. Lush, atmospheric production.

**Kate Williams - Four Plus Three (KWJazz)** 
Typically assured and expressive jazz compositions and arrangements from pianist Kate Williams, this time very successfully incorporating strings.

Katie Gately - Color (Tri Angle) 
Overwhelming and disorientating electronic sound and vocal collage - in a similar space to Holly Herndon perhaps.

**Kevin Morby - Singing Saw (Dead Oceans)**
A big step forward for Morby - superb songs, brilliantly executed and arranged.

Kikagayu Moyo - House In The Tall Grass (Guruguru Brain) 
Wild Japanese psychedelic rock.

King - We Are King (King Creative) 
Pop R&B at its best.

Klara Lewis - Too (Editions Mego)
An excellent second album of digitally manipulated found sounds and field recordings, including a couple of collaborations with Simon Fisher Turner.

**Kononon No. 1 - Konono No. 1 Meets Batida (Crammed Discs)**
Great meeting of minds between Kinshasa's legendary Konono No. 1 and Portugal's Batida. What is perhaps most interesting about this collaboration is the way in which these fundamental elements have been carefully intertwined with a range of electronics. The interaction between what often feels like club music pulse and the phrasing of the likembes results in fascinating and compelling cross rhythms. The opening track Niele Kalusimbiko surreptitiously subsumes the drums within an insistent four to the floor house pulse, amplifying the music’s trance-like effect. Bom Dia incorporates regimented handclaps as well as a drum machine. On Kinsumba, Konono’s voices are even chopped and re-arranged, as if to gently rouse the listener from a trance.


**Laura Mvula - The Dreaming Room (Sony)**
It's hard to see why Mvula remains slightly underrated - perhaps it's simply the curse of BBC new year polls. The Dreaming Room is a lush, sensuous work, superbly arranged with highly musical understanding.

Loretta Lynn - Full Circle (Sony)
It begins with a new version of the first song that Lynn ever wrote. Lynn is still in remarkably strong voice. Full Circle indeed.

Loscil - Monument Builders (Kranky)
Excellent eleventh album of absorbing ambient music from Scott Morgan.

**Lucinda Williams - Ghosts Of Highway 20 (Highway 20)**
Lucinda Williams has been astoundingly prolific recently - this is her second double album in as many years. With material drawn from the same sessions, but tied together with a strong thematic focus, it represents an interesting alternative to Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone - more haunting, stark and atmospheric, less soulful and groovy. Taken together, this may represent her best work.

Lydia Loveless - Real (Bloodshot)
A more polished piece of work from the usually raw Loveless, although no less excoriating and honest lyrically.

Margo Price - Midwest Farmer's Daughter (Third Man)
Fantastic Jack White produced country soul narratives.

Marisa Anderson - Into The Light (Chaos Kitchen) 
Great guitar music to get lost in from Anderson, apparently written as 'the soundtrack to an imaginary sic-fi-western film'.

Marissa Nadler - Strangers (Bella Union)
I keep meaning to spend more time with Marissa Nadler's enchanting music.

Mark Korven - The Witch OST (Milan)
One of the year's most striking and effective film soundtracks, this chilling piece of contemporary composition deserves to be heard in its own right.

**Mary Halvorsen Octet - Away With You (Red Distribution)** 
Ingenious and mercurial contemporary jazz from intriguing mid-sized ensemble.

Matmos - Ultimate Care II (Thrill Jockey)
Matmos' latest conceptual sonic conceit was to craft this album (one single piece) from the sounds of their washing machine. Domesticity has rarely sounded so weird.

**Matt Kivel - Fires On The Plain (Driftless Recordings)**
Matt Kivel - Janus (Driftless Recordings)
An impressive two albums from Kivel this year. If the more tightly focused Janus suggests songwriting potential, the sprawling and superb Fires On The Plain suggests Kivel is better when permitted the space for self indulgence.

Matt Ridley - Metta (Whirlwind) 
Strong collection of contemporary jazz composition from one of the London scene's leading bass players.

Max Romeo - Horror Zone (Nu-Roots)
An impressive late work from the roots reggae veteran, very much in intense and serious mode here.

Maxwell - blackSUMMERS'night (RCA)
Yes the capitalisation is important as it distinguishes this as a sequel to Maxwell's 2009 album BLACKsummers'night. The long wait has been worth it, as this is a rich and fulfilling work, particularly in terms of the production and arrangements.

Melt Yourself Down - Last Evenings On Earth (The Leaf Label) 
Pete Warheham's group take a harsher, more forceful turn here, incorporating skittish electronic drums and more vocals. It's a groovy, invigorating hybrid sound.

**Mica Levi and Oliver Coates - Remain Calm (Slip)**
A dream collaboration between two of our major, most open-minded artists.

**Michael Chillingworth - Scratch and Sift (Two Rivers)**
Chillingworth has long been one of the London jazz scene's most respected composers and improvisers. This album at last captures these high level skills on disc. The music is clear, intricate, thoughtful and exciting.

Mitski - Puberty 2 (Dead Oceans) 
A brilliantly personal and intense album.

Moor Mother - Fetish Bones (Don Giovanni)
I came by this too late (via The Wire magazine EOY list) for it to make the Top 50 but on first listen its radical sound collage feels powerful and necessary, and something I need to engage with more before 2017 gets fully under way.

Namby Pamby Boy - Namby Pamby Boy (Babel)
Maverick, engaging contemporary jazz from Europe.

**Nathan Bowles - Whole and Cloven (Paradise Of Bachelors)**
Bowles is a major lynchpin in that fascinating American scene at the moment - where the experimental and traditional collide in fascinating ways (he is a member of Steve Gunn's touring band and also has roles in Pelt and Black Twig Pickers). This is beautiful, frequently moving folk music.

Neil Young and The Promise of The Real - Earth (Warner)
Neil Young - Peace Trail (Warner)
Two releases from Neil this year, and it's easy to see that Peace Trail's 'Can't Stop Working' is a pretty accurate summation of his approach, even this late in his career. His relentless pace is admirable, even if it usually causes him to eschew self editing. The tour with Promise Of The Real has been brilliant - seeing Neil revisit solid gold classics from his back catalogue that have not been played in decades. Earth captures some of this, albeit with a focus on the ecological concerns. Peace Trail is one of his strangest records, an acoustic trio record occasionally knocked off-kilter by the kind of treated vocals Young first explored on Trans (is he trolling us here - just letting the legions of James Blake-inspired young artists know that he got there first?) Perhaps strangest (and certainly best) of all here is Jim Keltner's disruptive, creative drumming - a rarity for an artist so used to the pull of the backbeat. Lyrically, Young's work remains hit and miss though, especially when he engages with social and political issues, however well intentioned.

**Nicolas Jaar - Sirens (Other People)** 
Second major, brilliantly realised work from the Chilean-American producer and electronic composer.

Noname - Telefone (Self released) 
This should have received much more attention - brilliantly constructed and absorbing neo soul.

Oddarang - Agatha (Edition)
Post-rock, post-classical and post-jazz. What is it? Who cares. It has atmosphere, grace and hypnotic beauty.

Okkyung Lee and Christian Marclay - Amalgam (Northern Spy)
An inspired improvised set from two masters at Cafe Oto thankfully captured for posterity.

Pangaea - In Drum Play (Hessle Audio) 
Impulsive, propulsive electronica.

Paul Burch - Meridian Rising (Plowboy Records)
Long conceptual album of story songs from a master of traditional country music.

Pet Shop Boys - Super (x2 Recordings)
Another very strong album demonstrating there is still plenty of vitality in this long running, still mischievous pop act.

Phronesis - Parallax (Edition)
More thrilling, kinetic contemporary trio jazz.

Pye Corner Audio - Stasis (Ghost Box)
A supposed sequel to Martin Jenkins' previous Pye Corner Audio album with Ghost Box, 2012's Sleep Games. Refracted, haunted and hallucinogenic electronica.

Radian - On Dark Silent Off (Thrill Jockey)
More kinetic, vigorous fifth album from the Austrian band. 

Revolutionary Snake Ensemble - I Want That Sound (Innova) 
Mighty, revitalising new take on New Orleans jazz vibes.

Rhyton - Redshift (Thrill Jockey)
Great New York trio exploring improvisation in an ostensibly rock context. 

Robert Ellis - Robert Ellis
Another very strong record with as much of an emphasis on production and the resources of the studio as on the (admittedly excellent) songwriting. Ellis is a singer-songwriter steeped in country music traditions but also one who refuses to let the conventions of his form edge in to nostalgia.

Rokia Traore - Ne So (Nonesuch) 
An intimate set from Traore - still physical music but often now in a more light and agile way.

Roly Porter - Third Law (Tri Angle)
Bold, unsettling and visceral electronica from the former Vex'd member. 

Roy Montgomery - R M H Q: Headquarters (Grapefruit)
Shamefully, this beautiful reverie of a 4 disc set is my introduction to Roy Montgomery. I clearly now need to investigate the rest of his work, including The Pin Group. R M H Q is fluid, slithery, slow moving and intoxicating guitar music.

Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop - Love Letter For Fire (Sub Pop)
Great collaboration between two voices that blend effortlessly and two songwriters who love language, rhythm and phrasing. 

Sarah Davachi - Vergers (Important)
Serene and meditative ambient electronica.

Sarathy Korwar - Day To Day (Ninja Tune)
Inspired fusion of traditional Sidi Indian music with jazz and electronics. 

**Saul Williams - MartyrLoserKing** (Fader Label) 
Fiercely intelligent and politically engaged poetry-as-rap from Williams and a return to prominence in production for Justin Warfield too.

Scott Hirsch - Blue Rider Songs (Scissor Tail)
First solo album from Hiss Golden Messenger musician - gently rolling songs suggestive of the road.

Sloth Racket - Triptych (Luminous)
Brilliant, gestural improvisation (think Tim Berne, Fred Frith etc) from Cath Roberts, Sam Andrae and Anton and Johnny Hunter. 

Snowpoet - Snowpoet (Two Rivers)
Lush, sophisticated songs from Chris Hyson and Lauren Kinsella. Also features the improvising talents of some of the UK's best musicians - Josh Arcoleo, Matt Robinson, Nicholas Costley-White amd Dave Hamblett. 

Spain - Carolina (Glitterhouse) 
Welcome return for Josh Haden's languid, understated songcraft.

Steve Lehman - Selebeyone (Pi Recordings)
An excellent side-step from the saxophonist and composer specialising in spectral music. Selebeyone finds Lehman in collaborative mode, working with vocalists Gaston Bandimic and HPrizm (of Antipop Consortium) on a thrilling rap/jazz/world hybrid.

**Steve Gunn - Eyes On The Lines (Matador)**
The increasingly incandescent Gunn plays brilliantly as usual here, but the real delight is in the ongoing evolution of his songwriting. This is a rolling and tumbling gem. 

Steve Hauschildt - Strands (Kranky)
Fourth album for Kranky from the Emeralds man is predictably mesmerising.

Steven James Adams - Old Magick (Fortuna Pop!)
Steven Adams' post-Broken Family Band continues to become less exuberant but more nuanced. 

Strobes - Brokespeak (Blood and Biscuits) 
Off-kilter, angular, asymmetrical instrumental music from Dan Nicholls', Joshua Blackmore and Matt Calvert - like reworked electronica. Obvious overlap with the likes of Three Trapped Tigers.

Sturgill Simpson - A Sailor's Guide To Earth (Atlantic)
Simpson's status (both critically and self proclaimed) as some sort of saviour of country music is surely overstated, but there's still delight to be found in his broad brush strokes and the unusual range of colours in his arrangements. 

Suede - Night Thoughts (Warner Music UK) 
It's odd how this incarnation of Suede already seems to have been casually forgotten - especially as opulent records such as this surprise and delight.

Sun Kil Moon/Jesu - Sun Kil Moon/Jesu (Caldo Verde) 
It's difficult to know what to make of the needlessly confrontational, frequently objectionable Mark Kozelek these days - but even in his most abrasive musical contexts, he is still capable of winning beauty.

Supersilent - 13 (Smalltown Supersound)
More of the unpredictable same from the rigorous improvisers. 

Surgeon - From Farthest Unknown Objects (Dynamic Tension) 
Finds an intriguing common ground between Anthony Child's prior explorations in both techno and ambient fields.

Susso - Keira (Soundway)
Huw Bennett's elegant construction is made from recordings made on a visit to Gambia. 

Suzanne Vega - Lover, Beloved: Songs From An Evening With Carson McCullers (Amanuensis/Cooking Vinyl)
Vega's examination of the life of writer Carson McCullers is engaging and appropriately articulate.  

The Bad Plus - It's Hard (Okeh) 
Covers only album from the impressively enduring jazz power trio. Typically playful and inventive. As ever, their choice of modern standards is judicious, not least Prince's The Beautiful Ones.

The Bernard Lakes - A Coliseum Complex Museum (Outside Music) 
There remains something slightly irritating about The Besnard Lakes' outward affectations, not least the awful album titles - but their melodic take on progressive indie rock also has its manifest delights too. 

The Body - No One Deserves Happiness (Thrill Jockey)
Magnificent and robust noise/metal/electronic hybrid.

The Comet Is Coming - Channel The Spirits (The Leaf Label)
Jazz as dance music, dance music as jazz. 

The Dead Tongues - Montana (self released) 
Solo project from Ryan Gustafson, occasional touring member of Hiss Golden Messenger. Simple but effective songs steeped in country, Dylan etc.

The Field - The Follower (Kompakt)
It feels as if Axel Willner's music as The Field has been becoming progressively darker and more thickly textured.

The Gloaming - 2 (Real World)
Second studio album from the nuanced and powerful Irish-American group.

The Handsome Family - Unseen (Loose)
You know what you are getting from a Handsome Family album - absorbing prose-poems, a stark musical aesthetic and vivid imagery. Unseen of course delivers on all counts. 

The I Don't Cares - Wild Stab (Dry Wood Music)
Brilliant set of crisp, punchy songs from a collaboration between Paul Westerberg and Juliana Hatfield. How on earth was this allowed to almost slip under the radar?

The Invisible - Patience (Ninja Tune)
Well constructed and memorable third album, even if it does feel a little minor in relation to Rispah.

The Monkees - Good Times (Rhino)
A record that is surely better than it had any right to be, aided by empathetic production from Adam Schlesinger and a good range of songwriters (including Rivers Cuomo, Andy Partridge and Ben Gibbard).

The Rolling Stones - Blue and Lonesome (Virgin EMI) 
The Stones return to their blues roots but do so with an almost comical looseness.

The Skiffle Players - Skifflin' (Spiritual Pajamas) 
Not in fact a Skiffle revival, but more a low-pressure, enjoyably hazy detour for Cass McCombs. 

**The Still - The Still (Series Aphonos)**
Probably my favourite of Chris Abrahams' works outside The Necks this year, a reliably patient, spacious musical exploration, but one which still finds space for subtle grooves. 

Three Trapped Tigers - Silent Earthling (Century Media) 
Blasting, excoriating second album from the adventurous noise-rock-composition group.

Tim Garland - One (Edition)
Deepening musical relationships between Garland his current band pay dividends on this assured set. 

Tony Joe White - Rain Crow (Yep Roc) 
Punchy, committed work from the legendary southern country soul singer-songwriter whose still deepening voice resonates brilliantly.

Tori Freestone Trio - El Barranco (Whirlwind)
Great sax-bass-drums trio that seems partially liberated in its expression by the lack of a harmony instrument. 

Tortoise - The Catastrophist (Thrill Jockey)
It's a bit too easy to take a band like Tortoise for granted. We need to stop doing that. 

United Vibrations - The Myth of The Golden Ration (Ubiquity Recordings)
Here is a band that should be more widely known, making excellent, provocative crossover music.

Van Morrison - Keep Me Singing (Caroline Records)
Typically healing stuff from Van, albeit a little more restrained and comfortable than his very best work.

White Denim - Stiff (Downtown Records)
The garage rock group tighten up a little bit, seemingly focusing more on the sound and the songcraft than on the vibe or the exposition. 

Whitney - Light Upon The Lake (Secretly Canadian)
Warm, direct American indie rock with obvious appeal. 

**Wilco - Schmilco (dBPM)**
One of Wilco's most insidious works, this mercilessly concise flipside to last year's Star Wars offers mostly rustic, delicate acoustic flavours that slowly reveal inner depths. Jeff Tweedy is so skilled in understatement. 

Willie Lane - A Pine Tree Shilling's Worth Of Willie Lane (via Bandcamp)
Great solo guitar music - warped and manipulated.

Xylouris White - Black Peak (Bella Union)
The collaboration between George Xylouris and Jim White continues to yield thrilling, unpredictable and expressive results. 

Yello - Toy (Universal)
Swiss pioneers return with playful, entertaining thirteenth album.

Young Magic - Still Life (Carpark)
Vivid, unusual and imaginative pop music from New York experimental duo.

**Yves Tumor - Serpent Music (Pan)**
A dreamy, absorbing musical take on anxiety and loss. 

Zomby - Ultra (Hyperdub)
Less sprawling and less fragmented than its two immediate predecessors, Ultra is Zomby at his most focused and clear.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

2016 in Albums Part 2: The Top 50

With time very much against me this year, and with a comically absurd volume of music to revisit, I've decided to take a different approach to listing 2016 albums this year. I've listened to and enjoyed something approaching 260 albums this year and, whilst I would like to acknowledge them all, writing in detail about all of them would be an Herculean task and any attempt to rank them would be beyond arbitrary. So, I'm trying to keep to the spirit of my recent longer, more diverse lists whilst also being more realistic. This post features more detailed commentary about what I consider to be my personal top 50. Keep in mind that this is only the albums this year that I connected with the most. I will then list the remaining albums in a subsequent post, in an unranked order, with shorter descriptions where possible. There are excellent works at both levels of the list!

Some continued trends in my listening (none of them conscious impositions): Growing representation of female artists, increased proportion of instrumental music. 

50. Western Skies Motel - Settlers  (Lost Tribe Sound) 
Western Skies Motel are from Denmark, but their music is much more evocative of rural America (as they put it 'the dry winds of the American prairie'). In addition to the strong sense of geography and place, their music also feels richly emotional, without being sentimental. Fragile guitar picking blends with drones, the occasional harmonium or shimmering stringed instrument. It's very cinematic music - the sounds carrying a strong sense of imagery for which the accompanying sepia photographs feel appropriate.

49. So Percussion - Glenn Kotche: Drum Kit Quartets (Cantaloupe Music) 
Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche has spent large chunks of the past two years on the road, so it's perhaps double impressive that the minimalist miniature percussion quartet compositions on this set are so effective and well realised. Kotche explores both melodic and quirky sounds (from marimbas to sirens and vibraslaps) to create vivid, entertaining pieces.

48. Nikki Yeoh - Solo Gemini (Infinitum) 
It's hard to believe that this is Nikki Yeoh's first solo recording. Hired by Courtney Pine at a young age, Yeoh has also led the excellent piano trio Infinitum with Mark and Michael Mondesir, as well as touring internationally with a wide variety of musicians. She is rightly respected by musicians and audiences alike but has recorded relatively infrequently. Solo Gemini is an impressive encapsulation of Yeoh's skills as both composer and improviser, with a strong emphasis on personal inspirations and the art of storytelling. Partially as a result of its gestation, the selections here are drawn from a 25 year period (the oldest piece here is Moonlight Serenade, written when Yeoh was just 18) but the execution and development of the pieces brings mature and fresh perspectives. It's a record full of ideas, characterised by a broad appreciation of music (incorporating minaimalism, third stream and bebop influences) but also by judicious musical choices. Let's hope it doesn't take 25 years for the next one!

47. Vijay Iyer and Wadada Leo Smith - A Cosmic Rhythm With Each Stroke (ECM) 
This rich and contemplative duo set might be my favourite of pianist Vijay Iyer's recent works for ECM, such is the high level of empathy and interaction between Iyer and trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith. There's no self conscious virtuosity here - even Iyer's longstanding preponderence for complex rhythmic invention is scaled back. Instead, the musisicans adroitly explore space, resonance, texture, sound and meaning. The improvising seems to effortlessly achieve a purposeful dialogue. It both demands and rewards close attention.

46. Botany - Deepak Verbera (Western Vinyl) 
The third album from Spencer Stephenson creates a both absorbing and disorientating astral meditation from layers of intriguing samples. This is beautifully digressive music, abandoning established conventions in favour of associative wanderings and mysterious allusions. The title Deepak Verbera evolved from 'deep verb', the notion of deep reverb, but actually ended up having broder meaning ('deepak' in Hindi is a source of light). Stephenson's aim appears to have been to create ambient music designed to be heard at high volume rather than seep into the background. He has succeeded on this basis and more.

45. Monocled Man - We Drift Meridian (Whirlwind)
This represented a major shift for Rory Simmons' group, incorporating vocalists, electronics and an impressive focus on production as well as musical performance. Musical reference points from notional jazz communities might include keyboardist Craig Taborn’s wiry, fragmented and thoroughly brilliant electronics project Junk Magic or David Torn’s industrial, menacing masterpiece Prezens. More recently, and perhaps more pertinently for Simmons, trumpeter Dave Douglas made a similarly immersive and atmospheric journey through electronic sound worlds on his High Risk album. Simmons has also spoken of musical influences well beyond the jazz world, including the likes of Clark and Jon Hopkins.

Whilst these sound worlds sometimes seem cold and detached, the music also has a sense of melancholy that hints at loneliness and isolation. The latter emotion is significant, given that Simmons’ inspiration from the album was Pocket Book of Remote Islands, a book by German writer Judith Shcalansky, detailing her childhood interest in disparate islands and their inhabitants. For example, Tromelin Island, the location that gives name to the album’s mysterious, compelling overture, is the site of the wreckage of a slave ship that ran aground in 1761. It is also appropriate that the music consistently evokes both mystery and awe.

The album achieves an impressive unity and coherence in sound. Recurring characteristics include eerie echoes and reverb, purposefully splintered and broken grooves and coiled, deceptively delicate picked guitar lines. The approach to melody seems to lie mainly in the exploration and development of short, insistent motifs. Vocalist Emilia Martensson adds inventive phrasing in her understated but impressive contributions (particularly on the haunting title track). It is a work where attention to detail in sound design is as important as individual improvisatory contributions or compositional approaches to harmony and rhythm. Some of the depth in sound is achieved through the judicious use of effects, and in the intricate blend of acoustic and electronic drums. The approach manages to make many of these pieces sound simultaneously muscular and vulnerable.


44. Marius Neset - Snowmelt (ACT) 
Given that Marius Neset’s small band writing already sounds full to near-bursting point, one might be forgiven for questioning whether a work for jazz band and contemporary chamber orchestra might end up feeling overwrought. Could this simply be a case of too much information? Neset’s insistent rhythms and fluttering, angular melodies might perhaps be wearing in this context.

Refreshingly, Snowmelt has actually captured new sides to Neset’s writing and has found him very successfully finding poise and balance between his established writing style and these less familiar aspects. Whilst the music retains the hectic, fleet-footed folk dance quality of much of his small band work, it also expands upon more sensitive qualities only previously hinted at (for example on Angel Of The North from the Golden Xplosion album). What is even more impressive is that amidst all this writing, Neset has still left plenty of space for improvisation, including some stellar contributions from his bandmates. The opening prologue highlight’s Neset’s solo soprano saxophone and the wide range of sonic possibilites he can extract from the one instrument, whilst the Paradise section of the suite Arches Of Nature finds pianist Ivo Neame taking flight.

By devoting most of Snowmelt to long compositions (the wild, euphoric 12 minutes of the title track and the expansive suite Arches of Nature), Neset allows himself the time and space in which to explore his theme of extremes and contrasts. The music here ranges from abrasive dissonance to a rich, sensitive lyricism. He manages to explore the latter tendency without crossing over into the lachrymose or sentimental, instead establishing a mature and thoughtful dimension to his writing.


43. Tim Hecker - Love Streams (4AD) 
If one of the characteristics of Tim Hecker's work has been a certain kind of distance and detachment - ideas expressed through often abrasive static and noise, Love Streams seems to offer a greater sense of intimacy and warmth. The opening Obsidian Counterpoint is almost melodic, bubbling and fizzing in ways unusual to Hecker's work. This album is also particularly interesting because it finds Hecker working with choral voices, both in terms of digitally manipulating source material and in the writing of new choral parts. In separating the sound of these voices from conventional language, he creates something unusual and striking. This might be Hecker's most outwardly beautiful and exposed work.

42. Tindersticks - The Waiting Room (City Slang)
Tindersticks are a band that seem to grow in importance and personal resonance for me with each passing year. Part of this may be tied up with my growing appreciation for the films of Claire Denis, so many of which are scored by the band. There's another aspect to this too - a growing need for music that refuses to press obvious buttons, that captures emotion and drama through its restraint. So, whilst The Waiting Room is undeniably delicate and subdued, it also finds the band exploring rhythm in their own controlled and soulful way (check the hi-hats on Second Hand Man and the superb Were We Once Lovers has real urgency). It also features some magnificent string and horn arrangements (the latter courtesy of contemporary jazz legend Julian Siegel). The re-emergence of the sadly missed Lhasa De Sela on Hey Lucinda also provided one of the year's genuine shock moments.

41. Thalia Zedek Band - Eve (Thrill Jockey)
Formerly guitarist and vocalist with Come, Zedek is a vital figure in alternative music to whose music I am admittedly arriving very late in the day. Eve feels like a vital starting point, however, its potent and raw band sound revelling in dynamic control and dense emotion, with David Michael Curry's viola a distinctive element. Despite the obvious force of the band, Zedek's voice always remains a stark and striking presence at the forefront of the music.

40. Lambchop - FLOTUS (City Slang) 
The last few Lambchop albums have arguably been a little too easy to take for granted and it has felt for a while as if Kurt Wagner needed to make some changes to his modus operandi. Flotus represents such a step, incorporating electronic sounds and vocal effects into Lambchop's hermetic sound. It is of course not Wagner's first step in to such territory, having previous collaborated with XPress-2 and having released an album last year with his electronic project HecTA. Flotus was actually recorded around the same time as the HecTA record but is a much more successful experiment. It's inevitably tempting to compare this with Bon Iver's 22, A Million (which also relies heavily on vocal trickery), but Flotus is warmer, more inviting and, crucially, much less cluttered. Bookended by two very long tracks, there is space here both for wordy exposition (In Care Of 8675309) and for extended minimalist introductions (The Hustle). Also, in addition to all the effects, the music is also rooted in subtle, softly executed grooves.

39. Ian William Craig - Centres (FatCat)
Ian William Craig's first album for FatCat expands his sonic armoury with synthesiser, Hammond organ, guitar and accordion in addition to his extraordinary voice and customary tape manipulations. IWC's processes with sound distortion and tape loops seem largely unfathomable, but the results are tangibly beautiful and haunting.

38. Idris Ackamoor and The Pyramids - We Be All Africans (Strut)
In west coast alto saxophonist and bandleader Idris Ackamoor's own words, this is 'a message that we are all brothers and sisters. We are all one family, the human family and we need one another in order to survive on this planet that we all share.' We Be All Africans is a kinetic and thrilling counterbalance to some of the more dismaying prevailing political and social trends of 2016. Its fusion of space age improvisation in the manner of Sun Ra, West African Fela-esque grooves and infectious chants and melodies makes for an exuberant, joyous listening experience. For those whose interest is piqued for the first time, there's also a great compilation of earlier material available on Bandcamp.

37. Teenage Fanclub - Here (PeMa) 
Teenage Fanclub albums are sadly infrequent now but when they arrive they feel as reassuringly familiar as old friends. Yet, also like an old friend, this band seems to continue to grow and develop in subtle ways. Their music is hardly radical, but there are few bands with this many songwriters who have made the democratic approach work so well. Here is by some distance the strongest of their independently released, post-Creation work - with a little more scuzz and bite than Shadows but still capturing the understated classicism of their songwriting without fanfare, bells or whistles. Norman Blake's songs still sound effortless, with their melliflous melodies, whilst Raymond McGinley still sounds edgier, perhaps more cynical and world-weary (not a criticism, his outlook balances the otherwise relentless sunshine). Gerard Love arguably comes out of this one the strongest - particularly in his matching of delicate, understated verses with soaring, joyful choruses.

36. Paul Simon - Stranger To Stranger (Concord) 
Of all the elder statesmen legends still at work, Paul Simon is arguably the most taken for granted. He rarely seems to be afforded the kind of column inches regularly dished out to Dylan or Springsteen. Whilst his live sets still seem to favour the ubiquity of past achievements (particularly Graceland, which now seems to have been successfully divorced from the controversy of its original context), he still seems keen to challenge and push himself in the studio. Both this and its predecessor (So Beautiful Or So What) are beautiful sounding records, meticulously put together. Stranger To Stranger couples minimal, percussion heavy arrangements with some crisp and incisive lyrics, Simon's sense of irony and biting humour still predominant.

35. Padang Food Tigers and Sigbjorn Apland - Bumblin' Creed (Northern Spy)
Having come to adore Padang Food Tigers' 2012 album Ready Country Nimbus, I was delighted to discover this collaboration with harmonium player Sigbjorn Apland. With its use of found sounds to establish mood and feeling (perhaps creaking doors or floorboards, birdsong, running water, rainfall), this feels like music made on the back porch of an isolated homestead somewhere in rural America, but the duo of Spencer Grady and Stephen Lewis actually live in London. Whilst the music could hardly feel less urban, it offers a welcome respite from the ceaseless pace and intensity of city living to a more introspective and thouughful space, both intimate and open. This is a lovely record.

34. Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool (XL)
Whilst the weird form of groupthink that often clouds the afterlife of Radiohead records remains deeply frustrating (King of Limbs now seems as inaccurately condemned to minor status as Hail To The Thief was before it), there's no denying the stealthy impact of A Moon Shaped Pool. Rather than portraying it as a 'return to form' cliche, it might have been more interesting to explore its subtle variations in more natuaralistic band dynamics (it sounds less like an in-the-studio creation than KoL), its deft interweaving of influences drawn from psychedelia, freewheeling folk and spiritual jazz (particularly on album highlight The Numbers), and the careful integration of some features more characteristic of Jonny Greenwood's solo and soundtrack work (particularly the string arrangements). It's more of a melting pot than its immediate predecessors - but many of its contrasts create intrigue and suspense (this actually comes across more to me than the much-discussed post-breakup element).

33. Mary Lattimore - At The Dam (Ghostly International) 
The five semi-improvised harp pieces collected here (solo, but incorporating overdubs and quirky effects) are characterised by a philosophical, solipsistic character, and a strong sense of patient exploration. Inspired by a journey across America to the west, and by the rhythms of Joan Didion's essay writing, Lattimore seems unhurried, more interested in the journey itself than the eventual destination.  It captures something of the relationship between the land and the individual. 'The Quiet At Night' may be the most perfect marriage of music and title in 2016.

32. Moon Bros - These Stars (Western Vinyl) 
This is actually the sixth album Matt Schneider has recorded under the Moon Bros. moniker but the first to cross my radar (and thanks to Alexander Shields of A Grave With No Name for suggesting this, and a few other albums that make this list, to me). This actually feels like a record tailor made for me as it takes Schneider's love for Nashville country songcraft and filters it through a more liminal, improvisatory approach. This hybrid works remarkably well, and the resulting music has both graceful fluidity and lingering melancholy.

31. William Tyler - Modern Country (Merge) 
Expanding to a full band electric sound, William Tyler now channels Mark Knopfler and Daniel Lanois within his modern day appalachian folk music. This is a warmly atmospheric, healing record that never quite settles in to the background - there's always some detail in the playing or intriguing effect to keep the music simmering. It's an intriguing evolution in both Tyler's playing and his sonic palette - and he admirably keeps refusing to repeat himself.

30. Dinosaur - Together, As One (Edition)
Trumpeter Laura Jurd has been a favourite of this blog in a number of different musical situations for some time now, not least the excellent Blue Eyed Hawk collaborative band. Jurd has been working with pianist Elliott Galvin, bassist Conor Chaplin and drummer Corrie Dick for a while, but has now cemented this band's existence as a separate entity. Some distance from the impressionism of Landing Ground (her first album under her own name), Dinosaur embraces electrified sound worlds, looping repetitions, hypnotic grooves and bold playfulness.

The music is often built on open-sounding structures, direct melodic devices and repeating bass figures, yet the band can also handle Jurd’s more intricate rhythmic devices (Primordial, for example) with startling accuracy. For the most part, this is the sort of writing that lends itself very well to development and improvisation, as there are few limits on where it can be taken when the individual contributions of all the musicians come in to play.

Whilst the clearest reference point for this music is surely electric Miles Davis (specifically those brilliant transitional records Filles De Kilimanjaro and In A Silent Way), the open landscape of this music is sometimes redolent of our own countryside and hints at more personal, distinctive and homegrown elements. In addition to the transparent electric ensemble lineage, there are moments that hint at trumpeter Ian Carr’s experiments with classical and folk idioms on Northumbrian Sketches and Old Heartland (Carr was also Miles Davis’ biographer). It’s an intriguing mix executed with agility and a strong sense of energy and forward motion throughout.


29. Kendrick Lamar - untitled . unmastered (Aftermath Entertainment) 
Essentially a set of outtakes from To Pimp A Butterfly, this mini-album might lack its predecessor's sociopolitical sweep, but the creative way it is stitched together by association allows it to work as a fascinating and effective companion piece. The pieces, going back to 2013, are given date stamps for titles, but what emerges is a unified document of Lamar's musical and lyrical adventurousness (it often feels like an unstoppable torrent of words). If this is a stop-gap release, it's an exceptional one. Also, as an aside, listening to this next to the brilliant album from A Tribe Called Quest - it feels like I can discern the influence of Q-Tip on Kendrick.

28. Frank Ocean - Blond(e) (Boys Don't Cry) 
Much of 2016 was spent waiting for Frank - his notoriously unreliable tweets and hints suggested new music only for the tantalising promise to be repeatedly retracted. When new music arrived, it came in the most fascinating (and, it has to be said, admirably ruthless) of ways. A video album, Endless, given to Apple Music as en exclusive, extricated Ocean from his record contract and allowed him to release Blond, apparently the real deal as far as a follow-up to Channel Orange was concerned, independently. Fortunately, Blond now seems to be occupying the higher echelons of many end of year lists, but many of the immediate hot takes seemed misleading. Dismissed as 'lacking melody' by many expecting more of Channel Orange's savvy modernisation of classic soul tropes, Blond worked best as a continuous suite of music, a hazy, somnambulent set of fading memories, capturing the way youth quickly drifts in to nostalgia. It's a set of emotions filtered through the unreliability of recollection, the sometimes fragmentory, often drifting music a perfect realisation of Ocean's core ideas.

27. Brigid Mae Power - Brigid Mae Power (Tompkins Square) 
Brigid Mae Power's airy, ethereal music sings the virtues of simplicity and space. The opening 'It's Clearing Now' is stunning, built on a repeating two chord strumming pattern. It feels devotional, like a chant, a raga or a mantra, but over and above it is Power's understated but versatile voice, pulling and stretching at the song's elastic melody. Whether accompanied by pump organ or piano, Power's voice always seems full of mystery and longing.

26. Aziza Brahim - Abbar el Hamada (Glitterbeat) 
Another excellent album from the Sahrwi singer, perhaps as impressive for its sense of restaint and elegance as for its rhythms. At the forefront of a considered blend of acoustic and electric instruments, Brahim's clear and compelling voice is very much the heart of this record.  The album mixes traditional Saharawi rhythms with musical ideas from Senegal and the Mediterranean. It's perhaps worth noting Brahim's significant mission statement in her own words: “I’m not able to separate politics, cultural and personal concerns. So, the focus of my music is all of these areas at the same time. Political, because of its commitment to the denunciation of social injustice. Cultural, because it searches for new musical ideas. Personal, because it expresses the worries of a person that aspires to live with dignity in a better world.”

25. Oliver Coates - Upstepping (Prah) 
Few musicians can have had quite as multi-faceted and successful a year as cellist Oliver Coates. As part of the London Contemporary Orchestra, he helped craft the exquisite and imaginative orchestrations on Radiohead's A Moon Shaped Pool. Very late in the year, he also released an excellent collaboration album with Mica Levi. His own solo recording is pretty remarkable in its own right. Somewhat in the spirit of Arthur Russell (an obvious comparison many have already made, but no less meaningful for this), Coates has recorded a wholly contemporary album of minimalist, instrumental dance music using only his cello. Even the drum tracks are manipulated from samples of himself playing cello.  Coates sustains a murky atmosphere at times reminiscent of Burial but the processes and ideas behind Upstepping are very much his own.

24. Heron Oblivion - Heron Oblivion (Sub Pop)
The Sub Pop website describes this quite brilliantly with the words 'pastoral pummel' and I honestly don't think I could come up with anything better. This 'supergroup' combines Ethan Miller and Noel Von Harmonsen from the mighty Comets on Fire with vocalist Meg Baid (Espers, The Baird Sisters) and Charlie Saufey of Assemble Head. It's a world of striking contrasts, imbuing nature with a scorching sense of wildness and unpredictability. 

23. Shabaka and the Ancestors - Wisdom of Elders (Brownswood)
Whilst crossover projects such as Sons of Kemet and The Comet is Coming have garnered more attention for saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings (the latter nominated for the 2016 Mercury Music Prize), Wisdom of Elders might be his most interesting and rewarding recording. Connected to a group of South African musicians via Mandla Mlangeni of the Amandla Freedom Ensemble, Hutchings and the band recorded this music in just one day. Drawing from South African Nguni music, the American jazz tradition and calypso among other forms, this is music with all the urgency and intensity familiar from Hutchings' other projects, but with deeper, resonant compositions offering a great springboard for improvisation. The combination of drums, percussion and warm Fender Rhodes keeps this music in touch with its influences, but Hutchings' energy, commitment and great sound also roots the music in the present moment.

22. case/laing/veirs - case/laing/veirs (Anti) 
Whilst Neko Case, kd lang and Laura Veirs could all be said to operate in some form of hinterland on the outskirts of the country music tradition, the announcement that they had collaborated on an album together still came as something of a surprise. The result proved to be more than the sum of its part - a seamless, brilliantly executed blend of their individual vocal and songwriting characters, glued together by Tucker Martine's swirling, opulent production. This is a record of genuine sophistication. One of my big wishes for 2017 is for some live dates for this project in the UK.

21. 75 Dollar Bill - Wood/Metal/Plastic/Pattern/Rhythm/Rock (Thin Wrist Recordings) 
Stoical, repetitive and ritualistic, this set of four mostly long pieces is strikingly original. Yes, the music can be said to reference African 'desert blues', particularly in the incisive, gritty sound of Che Chen's modified guitar, but it replaces the urgency of that music with something more contemplative. With percussionist Rick Brown mostly playing cajon, it's a notably unconventional duo sound, and one that encourages close listening to pick out very small details. If you are prepared to leave the world for an hour, this is a deeply satisfying way of doing just that.

20. Henry Threadgill - Old Locks and Irregular Verbs (Pi Recordings) 
A heartfelt tribute to the composer Lawrence D. "Butch" Morris, who died in 2013, Old Locks and Irregular Verbs marks yet another impressive chapter in the continued development of Henry Threadgill's compositional voice. Written for the larger Ensemble Double Up, incorporating two pianos and a broader range of textures and possible sound worlds, the first three parts of this expand the palette of Threadgill's interval-based approach to composition that he has been exploring with his band Zooid. Also incorporating elements of Morris' 'conduction' work, the music is gestural and physical. For the fourth part, Threadgill departs from this approach in favour of something both more personal and universal - a funereal elegy for Morris that is powerful and moving.

19. Danny Brown - Atrocity Exhibition (Warp) 
Atrocity Exhibition is a multi-layered and complex work that will take many months of listening to unpick. For example, it apparently features numerous references to Brown's earlier work threaded throughout. But even enjoyed as a standalone statement, Atrocity Exhibition is pretty remarkable, not least for the virtuosity in Brown's wordplay and his singular ability to adopt a wide range of voices. It feels like a confrontational record - and enjoyably abrasive - but the combination of Brown's conceptual and intellectual verbosity with the intense, forceful production results in something vivid and compelling.

18. Noura Mint Seymali - Arbina (Glitterbeat) 
The second (and superior) international release from the Mauritanian singer is a versatile triumph, contrasting blazing, strident performances with moments of rich melodicism. The small band sound is still dominated by the adapted Moorish guitar of her husband Jeiche Ould Chighaly, although tracks such as Mohammedoun are notable for the intricate rhythmic interlocking of the whole band. There's also room this time for an occasional more wistful and reflective quality to emerge.

17. Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith - EARS (Western Vinyl)   
This seamless meshing of electronic and acoustic sounds, utilising vintage synthesisers and woodwind instruments played by Bitchin Bajas' Rob Fyfe comprises some of 2016's most meditative music. A lot of this also feels aquatic or grainy (at least in part due to the lightly effervescent synth sounds and the processing of Smith's voice), a little like moving through warm ocean waters. Whilst the pieces are mostly concise, it also seems to come together as a single long form work. It has been a deeply soothing balm in this most troubling of years.

16. A Tribe Called Quest - We Got It From Here...Thank You 4 Your Service (Epic)
Despite being rumoured for many years, the eventual appearance of a sixth album from A Tribe Called Quest still made for one of 2016's biggest surprises. Completed shortly before the sad death of Phife Dogg, this sprawling, hugely entertaining set stands as both a fitting memorial for Phife and a strong concluding statement for the group. There are the inevitable strong contributions from guests (notably Busta Rhymes), but they never threaten to overshadow the distinctive rap voices from the individual members of Tribe. Like A Seat At The Table, it also presciently addresses the station of the nation in the USA.

15. Solange - A Seat At The Table (Saint Records/Columbia) 
Whilst most of the music industry focus this year may have been on sister Beyonce's Lemonade, Solange Knowles quietly made the more compelling music, partially for its deft modernisation of psychedelic soul but also for its social and political engagement and strong personal dimension. This is a long album that manages to cover a lot of ground within its striking, unified sound world. Solange's soft, controlled vocals are not outwardly virtuosic but still span an impressive range, and the layering of vocals to create lush, sophisticated harmonies are one of this album's many musical charms. An honest, compelling document of contemporary black womanhood, alongside reminiscences in the interludes from Solange's parents (one of the best interludes finds Tina railing against those who would suppress black pride), this is a strong reminder of the notion that the personal is political.

14. Hiss Golden Messenger - Heart Like A Levee/Vestapol (Merge) 
I find Hiss Golden Messenger albums tend to be insidious - initially feeling ingratiating but relatively straightforward, they then gradually reveal considerable nuances and depths over time. The prolific MC Taylor's songwriting continues to be poetic, perceptive and self critical, and he remains one of the great chroniclers of the internal conflicts and tensions inherent in a touring musician's life. Heart Like A Levee continues his evolution in to more expansive arrangements, with a strong focus on groove (not least on Like A Mirror Loves A Hammer, the great one chord jam of 2016). There's also space for evocative writing too, not least on the plaintive Cracked Windshield. The deluxe edition came with a bonus album too good to be condemned as merely something extra - Vestapol is a fully realised set of acoustic songs.

13. William Bell - This Is Where I Live (Stax) 
The soul legend's return to Stax is unlikely to win any prizes for innovation, but in terms of sheer quality, it is one of the year's most remarkable achievements. At the age of 77, Bell is still in strong voice and performing at the top of his game. This album is also superbly produced, with a remarkably warm vintage soul sound. The songwriting is also first rate. Bell is one of the most significant writer-performers in the history of American soul music, but not actually written about all that often. That should change.

12. Ryley Walker - Golden Sings That Have Been Sung (Dead Oceans) 
Ryley Walker's self constructed persona as a lumbering, careless provocateur belies the increasing depth and intuition in his music, although both man and music channel a kind of audacity. In actuality, Walker is a musician who knows exactly what he's doing, from the increasingly disarming frankness of his lyrics (think Marks Eitzel or Kozelek) to his choice of improvising collaborators from the Chicago scene (guitarist Brian Sulpizio, free flowing drummer Frank Rosaly). With songs developed from improvisations, producer LeRoy Bach seems to have helped channel some freewheeling ideas in to something both flexible and coherent. Certainly, much more of Walker's personal voice seems to be cutting through here - whereas Primrose Green effectively channeled his key influences (Tim Hardin, John Martyn, Tim Buckley, Nick Drake etc), it's not only easier to discern the influence of improvisers such as Jeff Parker here, but also Walker's own story. The most exciting thing about this record is its suggestion of potential - there's surely a masterpiece still to come.

11. Robert Stillman - Rainbow/Time Of Waves (Orindal) 
I'm cheating a little here by combining multi-instrumentalist Robert Stillman's two releases this year (both short form - one a mini-album, one a 4 track EP), although it feels justified in that they complement each other in compelling ways. Released in January, Rainbow began 2016 with a sense of both melancholy and celebration. Reintroducing Stillman's tenor saxophone and built from multi-tracked recordings of himself on various instruments, Rainbow effortlessly draws connections between disparate influences - minimalist composition, the spiritual jazz movement, Milton Nascimento, Ornette Coleman, aspects of Harry Smith's anthology of American folk music. Structured around dedications to members of his family (including his daughter Ruth who sadly passed away), the landscape in Kent and to this station wagon, Rainbow is a meditative, deeply personal work that is also broadly inspiring. Time Of Waves focuses more tightly on some of Stillman's more abstracted, experimental leanings - ambient and drone particularly. It's an improvisation for saxophone with effects and cassette players. Musically, it's very different from Rainbow, but it creates a similarly personal feeling - Stillman's musical interpretation of contemporary life ('we are living in a time of waves').

10. Laura Cannell - Simultaneous Flight Movement (Brawl) 
Recorded live in a single take at Southwold Lighthouse, Simultaneous Flight Movement arguably does more than any other recording in 2016 to incorporate the physical environment in to its sound. The natural reverb is particularly effective on the tracks on which Cannell plays various recorders. Cannell is a fascinating musician, with training and experience in baroque and medieval music but also in experimental contemporary worlds too. Her own music channels the ghosts of the past in to something new and urgent, integrating composition and improvisation, history and current experience.

9. Khmer Rouge Survivors - They Will Kill You, If You Cry (Glitterbeat) 
This third instalment of Glitterbeat's Hidden Musics series may be the most significant. The Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia is widely accepted to have killed a quarter of Cambodia's population. A tragedy of that magnitude also inevitably had a significant impact on the country's art and culture. Here, producer Ian Brennan (Tinariwen, amongst others) has recorded fourteen performances by survivors of the Killing Fields. The resulting collection is desolate, haunting and overwhelming - but also a vital, living, breathing testament to the power of music.

8. Linda Sharrock (In) The Abyssity Of The Grounds - Gods (Golden Labs) 
Being strictly limited to just 300 copies probably didn't help its cause much, but it has been astonishing just how little writing there has been about this outstanding album. Outside the pages of The Wire, it seems to have received no analysis or discussion at all. It's actually a fascinating counterbalance to all the works of grief and departure that have characterised this year (and it's probably not too much of a spoiler to say this top ten), in that Gods celebrates endurance and adapting to radically altered circumstances. Having suffered a debilitating stroke in 2009, Linda Sharrock's voice has become a sort-of low rumbling moan some way distant from her intense, transcendent work with husband Sonny on masterpieces such as Black Woman and Paradise. And yet, this new voice is also a great communicator, both blending with and occasionally provoking the musicians in this wild, fiery ensemble. Gods might be the most tempestuous set of free improvisation released in 2016 - far from easy listening, but rich with its own rewards.

7. Wadada Leo Smith - America's National Parks (Cuneiform) 
As if emboldened by the fully deserved acclaim for Ten Freedom Summers, trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith's late career continues to go from strength to strength, refocusing his work around his thematic suites. This is another major work that continues to exhibit Smith's strong sense of economy. He can imbue a couple of notes (or even simply the placement of those notes) with a sense of intensity and drama. The combination of cello and trumpet as forefront voices is intriguing. This all works brilliantly for an examination of the public landscapes of the USA.

6. Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds - Skeleton Tree (Bad Seed)
Whilst I couldn't quite get in to the nebulous Push The Sky Away (the previous Bad Seeds album), Skeleton Tree proved sonically fascinating by developing the strongest aspects of that album's sound (creative use of space, quieter dynamics, eerie textures). Any discussion of the musical success of this inevitably became swept away by the context of the album's release following the tragic death of Cave's teenage son. It's true that, whilst it was mostly written before the event, Skeleton Key does seem, perhaps mysteriously, to channel a palpable sense of grief. It is stark and frequently overwhelming, sometimes unsettling but also offering tremendous empathy and consolation.

5. Shirley Collins - Lodestar (Domino)  
Painfully reflective of her modus operandi of collecting old folk ballads (both well known and neglected), it’s perhaps apt that Shirley Collins now herself possesses a rediscovered voice. Diagnosed with dysphonia following the end of her marriage to Ashley Hutchings (Fairport ConventionSteeleye Span), Collins was left unable to sing; Lodestar is her first album in 38 years. Returning to recording (and live performance) after such a long period away would be an event for any artist, but Collins is a singer whose presence through influence has spread far and wide during her absence. 2014’s Shirley Inspired concert and recording emphasised her importance to a new generation of song collectors and performers (including her friend David Tibet of Current 93Alasdair Roberts and Sam Lee).

All of these musicians have, in their own distinctive ways, shared Collins’ predilection for drawing out the weirdness and darkness in traditional song. If anything, this aspect of her music is greatly heightened here by the deepening of her voice. This imbues the songs with vividness and experience, somehow at once both robust and vulnerable. By celebrating both the strengths and weaknesses of this remarkable instrument, Lodestar feels entirely free from any form of burden or pressure. Collins possesses the sort of voice that compels the listener to focus, perhaps precisely because of her rejection of any kind of extraneous adornment. With the vocal takes recorded at Collins’ home, Collins seems at her most relaxed, able to inhabit each song completely, focusing relentlessly on clarity of communication and respect for the melodies. The music on Lodestar is all about the song, rather than about Collins’ musical personality.

Collins captures a hinterland between tradition and vanguard and many of the arrangements feature subtle but highly effective nuances that greatly enhance the sense of atmosphere and foreboding.
Whether stark and menacing, grief-laden or simply plain daft, Lodestar is a triumph of storytelling and sound.

4. Dan Weiss - Sixteen: Drummers' Suite (Pi Recordings)
Like Tyshawn Sorey, Dan Weiss is a drummer composer of considerable facility and resource (it's surely no coincidence that the same label is releasing work from both these artists). The follow-up to the expansive Fourteen, as its title suggests, Sixteen uses an even larger and more unconventional ensemble to explore Weiss' preoccupation with orchestration. Here, Weiss makes a virtue of what is too often dismissed as a limitation for drummers-as-composers - a focus on rhythm. He has transcribed specific passages from some of his favourite drummers (each track is named after a specific drummer) and used these ideas as the foundation for his themes. This re-establishes the rightly celebrated idea of 'melodic rhythm', vital to any jazz drummer seeking to play musically, and both celebrates the importance of studying the past and making an individual contribution to the music's evolution. Some would no doubt say Sixteen doesn't sound very much like jazz - but they would have missed the point. This is exactly what jazz should be - an approach or a state of mind informing the arrangement and expression of music.  

3. Leonard Cohen - You Want It Darker (Columbia) 

Again, it's hard to divorce this from the sense of poignancy that comes with the knowledge that this really is Leonard Cohen's final statement. This is an idea that has been discussed for some time of course and Cohen had been throwing in dry witted lines about death and the ageing process as long ago as 1988's I'm Your Man ('I ache in the places where I used to play'). Whilst it is full of songs of departure (not least the masterful 'Leaving The Table'), You Want It Darker actually feels a good deal less final than the weirder Dear Heather. Whereas that album seemed burdened and serious, You Want It Darker (in spite of its title) often feels light, airy and relaxed - approaching the end with a considerable sense of humour and a sense of being at peace. It's almost as if Leonard looked at the geopolitical turmoil of western politics in 2016, found it a little too close to his intimations of doom on The Future, and wisely checked out. We will be bereft of his voice, but this subtle, intimate and beautifully arranged work (more human in sound than its immediate predecessors) will stand alongside his other masterpieces as an enduring statement. 

2. Tyshawn Sorey - The Inner Spectrum Of Variables (Pi Recordings) 

One of those works that occupies such a unique space on the musical spectrum that it is hard to know how to define it. This is far too organised and composed to be straightforward jazz, yet its emphasis on gestures, textures, concepts and in-the-moment spontaneity (through the vehicle of 'conducted improvisation') suggest something well beyond the bounds of even the most adventurous modern composition. Sorey is a fearsomely inventive musician - a dexterous drummer with a keen sense of complex polyrhythm and subdivision, but also someone interested in both the spiritual dimensions of music.  That he is now taking up a professorship in place of a retiring Anthony Braxton seems highly appropriate as he is one of a handful of musicians carrying the torch of fully integrating composition and improvisation. 

**1. David Bowie - Blackstar (Columbia)**
It may in many ways be the obvious selection but Blackstar synthesised so much of what I love about music. In utilinsing Donny McCaslin, Tim Lefevbre, Jason Linder and Mark Guiliana in his band, Bowie not only proved himself capable of late career innovation, he also opened hearts and minds to the approaches of contemporary jazz musicians. Sounds that so often receive short shrift from rock and mainstream critics suddenly became embracable. Only someone churlish would be cynical enough to dismiss this. That unfortunate events only added to this album's cultural importance - not least imbuing it with a hitherto concealed poignancy and symbolism. Combining some of Bowie's most moving songs and melodies with the near-scientific rigour of these musicians resulted in something new and exciting. 


Saturday, December 24, 2016

2016 In Music Part 1: Reissues, Revivals and Compilations

A selection of 2016's finest reissues, compilations and rediscoveries, in no particular order. One very positive thing about online streaming is virtual crate digging! 

Ryan Adams - Heartbreaker Deluxe Edition 
R.E.M. - Out Of Time 25th Anniversary Edition (Warner Brothers) 
The Afghan Whigs - Black Love 20th Anniversary Edition (Mute) 
Beach Boys - Pet Sounds 50th Anniversary 

'Yeah, all this is being recorded, can you imagine if they actually put this out? I mean, this isn't The Tonight Show'. And yet here it all is, a loose spirited but invaluable appendix to yet another reissue of what consensus still tells us is pop music's greatest recorded statement. It's unlikely that anyone reading this needs a new version of Pet Sounds to remind them of its majesty - but for completists, the 50th Anniversary contains the mono and stereo mixes of the album, instrumental versions of the stereo mixes and a small handful of live recordings that give the lie to the idea of Brian Wilson's work as purely a studio construction. 

The other anniversary editions here are considerably more recent, but still serve as mildly terrifying markers of the rapidity with which time passes. Ryan Adams is still yet to better his debut solo album Heartbreaker - his most assured combination of brazen self confidence (beginning the album with an argument with David Rawlings regarding Morrissey) and lovesick tenderness (it also contains his most subtle and delicate writing). Heartbreaker is much more about strong, imaginative vocal phrasing than it is about posturing or making grand statements. The extras here mix loose outtakes, needless studio jams and the odd essential (Goodbye Honey). 

R.E.M.'s Out Of Time serves as a timely reminder that the commercial pop world can be fickle enough to leave room for revelatory success stories. Looking back now, how on earth is it that R.E.M. were catapulted from dependable arena act to multi-platinum global stars on the back of Losing My Religion - a minor key song with beautifully oblique lyrics about unrequited, perhaps even obsessive, love? The Southern gothic folk of its parent album remains one of rock music's great moments of understatement, restraint and sly artfulness, although the explosions of bubblegum pop on Radio Song and Shiny Happy People still sound slightly out of place. The bonus disc of demos is interesting for seeing the musical and lyrical development in the songs - but also is just how much of the stark quality of the original recordings that the band and producer Scott Litt managed to keep in place. 

The repackaging of Black Love, the greatest album by the greatest incarnation of Greg Dulli's Afghan Whigs, contains the fewest worthwhile extras - but this is one of the great albums of the 90s, all too seldom mentioned as such. Dulli's dark vision, tinged with both unquenchable desire and sexual regret, reached its apotheosis here, and the band found a compelling hybrid of classic Motown soul, slinky funk and intense classic rock that resulted in a new, appropriately turbulent synthesis. 

Erroll Garner - Ready Take One (Columbia) 
One of those releases where it's difficult to know whether to classify it amongst reissues or as a 'new' product. Ready Take One is billed as the first 'new' Erroll Garner album in 20 years and it does indeed gather together previously unreleased material from sessions recorded between 1967 and 1971. The material here is variable - with a somewhat drifting feel with the music sometimes lacking in intensity. Nevertheless, there are also sublime moments when a more inspired and playful Garner cuts through. 

Lee Moses - Time and Place (Future Days Recordings)
Reissued on vinyl by Light In The Attic, this is an irresistible slice of funk groove, with Moses' vocal adding gritty, insistent character and his guitar riffs providing raw urgency. After this album failed to achieve the success Moses sought, it seems his life took an unfortunate route in to depression. There should have been space for this remarkable record on its first release in 1971. 

Tim Buckley - Lady, Give Me Your Key: The Unissued 1967 Solo Acoustic Sessions (Light In The Attic) 
It would be a stretch to describe any of these stripped back solo demos as more essential than any of the existing Tim Buckley releases. However, they do complement the studio albums in illuminating ways, not least in their unmediated emotion, testament to Buckley's considerable communicative gifts. 

Vivien Goldman - Resolutionary Songs (Staubgold) 
Music journalist, scholar, post-punk pioneer - here is a great compilation celebrating the work of Vivien Goldman. The music is collaborative, with Goldman working with both British punk and Jamaican musicians but the vocal delivery and witty narrative lyrics are all Goldman's own. 

Lee Hazlewood - Cowboy In Sweden (Light In The Attic) 
One of many bizarre detours in a surreal and unpredictable career, Hazlewood's Swedish TV show and accompanying soundtrack are lavishly remembered here. It's actually some of his finest music, his resonant baritone is once again softened by the presence of guest vocalists and the lush string arrangements capture something melancholy and insecure amidst the dry humour. 

Big Star - Complete Third (Omnivore/Ardent Music) 
Maybe the most extreme example of the over-expansion of an individual album. I'm not convinced its necessary to own a 60-plus track version of Big Star's most ragged and emotionally involving album but now many of these things can be explored legitimately via online streaming, it is interesting to investigate the processes behind even those album that sound the most devoid of process or concept. Like Bob Dylan's 1966 tour set (see below), these products are perhaps more interesting as historical sources for popular music than as a listening experience in themselves. 

Bob Dylan - 1966: The Real Royal Albert Hall Concert (Columbia) 
Just in case The Cutting Edge set hadn't entirely satiated the Bobcats desire for everything 66 related - here were yet more products. One is a double disc set of the actual Royal Albert Hall (the infamous 'Albert Hall' show of legend actually took place at the Manchester Free Trade Hall and had been released in an earlier edition of the Bootleg Series). The other is an exhaustive box set including every show from the 1966 UK tour. It's completely unaffordable (and surely unnecessary for all but an obsessive completist). Any individual show from this tour is surely worth a listen, however, as a sample of one of the most culturally and musically seismic tours of the entire decade. 

Count Ossie and The Mystic Revelation of Rastafari - Tales of Mozambique (Soul Jazz) 
Influential Rastafarian nyabinghi music, the follow up to 1973's crucial Grounation. Less well known than that earlier release, perhaps, but still rich in spirituality and percussion-dominated groove. 

The Baird Sisters - Until You Find Your Green (Ba Da Bing) 
Originally a vinyl only record store day release in 2014, Ba Da Bing kindly made this haunting, shimmering delight more widely available this year. Perhaps surprisingly, this is the first time sisters Laura and Meg Baird have recorded together officially. Meg should be a familiar presence from her major contributions to Espers and Heron Oblivion (one of 2016's most vital bands) and from her similarly dreamlike, gossamer solo albums. Laura Baird has her first solo album due out on Ba Da Bing in 2017. 

Jack White - Acoustic Recordings 1998 - 2016 (Third Man) 
Both Jack White's first career spanning compilation and an offering of an alternative, more narrative focused side to his mythology. 

Shadow - Sweet Sweet Dreams (Analog Africa) 
A genuine collectors' favourite, this 7 track mini album found Trinidadian star Winston Bailey, known as The Mighty Shadow, branching out from pure calypso to explore soukous rhythms and joyful horn arrangements. It would be great to have more of Shadow's work available, not least his magnificent 1977 album Dreadness (among the sounds of my youth thanks to my father's expert global crate digging). 

This Heat - This Heat 
This Heat - Deceit
This Heat - Health & Efficiency 
Camberwell Now - The Ghost Trade (Modern Classics/Light In The Attic)
With a not-nostalgic not-quite-reunion of This Heat playing live shows this year, this seemed like the perfect occasion for a necessary revaluation of Charles Hayward's extraordinary, still potent work. Don't ignore the 19 minute 'single' Health & Efficiency, as it's every bit as distinctive, angular and powerful as the albums. Also, the much less lauded Camberwell Now project is superb and deserves to be heard by fresh ears. 

The Associates - Sulk Deluxe Edition
The Associates - Fourth Drawer Down Deluxe Edition (BMG)
It's been satisfying to see a little more writing about The Associates this year around these deluxe editions. One of the most important acts of the 1980s, Alan Rankine and Billy Mackenzie are too little discussed. Sulk, particularly, is a masterpiece, the perfect union of Mackenzie's extravagant, theatrical vocal flourishes with Rankine's evocative, sometimes menacing synthesiser soundscapes. 

Various Artists - Close To The Noise Floor (Cherry Red) 
Exhaustive compilation of formative UK electronica, some of it brutal, some of it mechanistic, some of it mesmerising, all of it at one point innovative. 

Various Artists - Greg Belson's Divine Disco (Cultures of Soul) 
This is one of my favourite releases of the year - an irresistible slice of 70s gospel praise music for dancing. It's just a shame that it's so brief at just seven tracks. It features inspired vocal performances and energising grooves. It's quite some distance even from traditional gospel church music, a fascinating context for worship. 

Various Artists - Boogie Breakdown: South African Synth Disco 80-84 (Cultures of Soul)
Much like the Divine Disco compilation, this is a frustratingly brief set, but it packs great, infectious party music in to its concise running time. One of the great things about these compilations is they can introduce us to national music scenes to which we have otherwise been denied access. 

Various Artists - Why The Mountains Are Black: Primeval Greek Village Music 1907-1960 (Third Man)
Astounding compilation of Greek village folk music curated by Christopher King from his private 78rpm archive and released by Jack White's Third Man label. The music here can seem menacing or frightening - perhaps hence the title, but it is also celebratory. 

Various Artists - Wayfaring Strangers: Cosmic American Music (Numero)
The moniker 'cosmic American music' might be a spurious way of drawing these disparate artists together but it results in a evocative and compelling collection. It does also have its roots in an idea - that kind of transcendent Americana pursued by Gene Clark on No Other - music that has subsequently gone on to inspire the likes of Fleet Foxes and My Morning Jacket amongst many others. This is off the beaten track country music - imaginatively produced and veering well beyond the familiar dirt roads. 

Various Artists - Soul Jazz Presents Boombox 1 (Soul Jazz) 
A fine, hugely enjoyable collection of early block party hip hop. Superb breaks and mildly cringeworthy rhymes galore. 

Various Artists - Soul Jazz Presents New Orleans Funk 4: Voodoo Fire in New Orleans (Soul Jazz) 
This series continues to unearth brilliant rewards from the familiar (Dave Bartholomew's hit 'The Monkey') to the unheralded (Gus 'The Groove' Lewis' superb 'Let The Groove Move You', James K-Nine's 'Live It Up'). As its subtitle suggests, this compilation draws deep link between the music of New Orleans and its broader culture and history.  

Various Artists - Kenya Special Vol. 2 (Soundway) 
Another excellent compilation from Soundway, focusing once again on the music of Kenya, and introducing me to a number of artists previously unknown to me. Highlights include The Lulus Band's wonderful I Can Feel It (a joyous, celebratory take on the apocalypse), the scratchy porto-disco of Joseph Kamaru's Mukarara Nake and African Vibration's Hinde, incorporating drum machines and electronic production techniques.  

Various Artists - Bobo Yeye: Belle Epoque in Upper Volta (Numero) 
A beautiful compendium from Numero, combining a hardbound monograph with 3 CDs of rare and enriching music, documenting the music, culture and social context of Upper Volta in the 1970s. 

Various Artists - Bitori (Legend of Fuana - Forbidden Music of Cape Verde Islands) (Analog Africa) 
An informative and valuable reissue of Victor Bittori's ceaselessly energetic 1975 recording, believed to be among the greatest Fuana recordings. A brilliant introduction to music previously unknown to me - it's impossible to hear this music and not want to move. 

Various Artists - Space Echo (The Mystery Behind The Cosmic Sound of Cabo Verde Finally Revealed) (Analog Africa) 
A great compilation of remarkably sci-fi sounding music that comes with the legendary story of a cosmic shipwreck of musical instruments on the island of Cabo Verde. Fascinating and invigorating in equal measure. 

Various Artists - Nigeria Soul Fever - Afro Funk, Disco and Boogie: West African Disco Mayhem (Soul Jazz) 
Thrilling compilation of West African dance music beyond Fela. Righteous grooves. Joni Haastrap's Free My People is one of my favourite discoveries of the year. 

Various Artists - Wake Up You! The Rise & Fall of Nigerian Rock (1972-1977) (Now-Again) 
Remarkably intense and electrified music - the power of full throttle rock and roll with a distinctively West African rhythmic approach. 

Various Artists - The Microcosm: Visionary Music of Continental Europe 1970-1986 (Light In The Attic) 
A necessary corrective to Brexit fever and a reminder (if any were needed) that kosmische European art music is very fertile ground indeed. Music patient enough to allow for reflection and mystery. 

Various Artists - The Music of Morocco Recorded by Paul Bowles (Dust To Digital) 
The best of a number of vital sets released by Dust To Digital in 2016 - now one of the best imprints for those looking to rediscover buried treasure. This set of field recordings made in Morocco by the author and musician Paul Bowles feels like more than music - a direct slice of life as it is being lived.  

Terry Reid - The Other Side Of The River 
Seed of Memory and The River remain two of my all time favourite albums. Sets like this, which tells an alternative story of The River, ought to help introduce more people to Reid's languid, expressive songwriting. He should no longer be seen as rock's nearly man (for not quite joining Led Zeppelin) and should instead be regarded as one of its most unfairly neglected figures. 

Manuel Gottsching E2-E4 - 35th Anniversary Edition (MG. ART) 
One of the most important electronic albums of all time - pioneering, hypnotic and completely essential. 

Larry Levan - Genius of Time (Universal) 
A great double CD set that gives those of us too young to know first-hand a pretty clear idea of what a night at The Paradise Garage would have been like. As well as Levan's skills with remixing and added effects, there's also plenty of evidence here of his own inherent musicality. 

Cluster - 1971-1981 (Bureau B) 
Expensive, lavish 9LP box set of German electronic innovators Cluster's major recordings over a ten year period. It is worth noting that much of this material is available individually on iTunes or Spotify (with new download versions due in January too). This is an intriguing evolutionary journey in the life of a band. 

Sun Ra - Singles (Strut) 
This massive 65 track compilation is pretty extraordinary - displaying a side of Sun Ra completely removed from the vanguard improvisation of his many long form album statements. Much of this is basically pop music - concise collaborations with vocalists, swing dance pieces and infectious melodies. This being Sun Ra, however, it's all executed in a very artful way. Also includes Nuclear War - still worryingly relevant as 2016 draws to a close. The Sun Ra catalogue is dauntingly vast but, alongside the Marshall Allen compilation from last year, this is a comfortable place to start. 

Syrinx - Tumblers From The Vault (RVNG International) 
This set collects Syrinx's two albums plus some unheard music from the vaults, making it both an introduction to this somewhat bizarre and fascinating band and a comprehensive overview. One of the first bands to utilise the Moog synthesiser, Syrinx's music is rendered otherworldly not just by the sounds of that instrument, but also by the unconventional trio context of the whole ensemble - drums, saxophone and Moog is a curious line up. 

Miles Davis - Freedom Jazz Dance (Columbia) 
Another one of those exhaustive compilations that might be of greater interest to students of music and musicologists than to the more general audience, Freedom Jazz Dance, compiling every known take from the Miles Smiles sessions, provides some unusually intimate insight in to the jazz recording process. 

Annette Peacock and Paul Bley - Dual Unity (Light In The Attic)
One of the strangest and most beguiling records to have emerged from jazz - this is surreal, mysterious, magical and enveloping. So good to have it widely available again. 

Neil Young - Time Fades Away (Reprise) 
It's utterly typical of Neil Young to finally re-issue one of his handful of long out of print, unavailable recordings in such a way as for no-one to really notice. First reissued on limited vinyl run for Record Store Day (groan) and then later as a digital release, the gloriously loose, free wheeling Time Fades Away is no longer among the holy grail of rock recordings. 

Terry Allen - Lubbock (On Everything) (Paradise Of Bachelors) 
Terry Allen - Juarez (Paradise Of Bachelors)  
Two very different albums from the visual artist turned singer-songwriter offering a unique perspective on the outlaw country genre. The results are somewhere between Johnny Cash and Tom Waits-esque cabaret. Allen's dry vocals are a great vehicle for this kind of storytelling.

Betty Davis - The Columbia Years (Light In The Attic) 
If Betty Davis was indeed responsible for opening Miles Davis' mind to psychedelia and rock, she played a crucial role in the development of modern music without even recording a note of her own. And yet, she also made some brilliantly lascivious and dirty funk albums. These demo recordings, sketching initial ideas and re-interpretations, made with members of both Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix's band. It's a very loose, spontaneous and unrehearsed set of recordings, but it provides some insight into a relationship of reciprocal inspiration. 

Betty Harris - The Queen of New Orleans Soul (Soul Jazz) 
Some of these tracks have already appeared on earlier Soul Jazz New Orleans compilations, but Harris certainly deserves a complete set in her own right. This captures all her work with Allen Toussaint as producer and arranger, utilising the considerable skills of The Meters as a house band. With Harris also a compelling singer, this set is vital. 

Blind Alfred Reed - Appalachian Visionary (Dust To Digital)
Bruce Springsteen adapted Reed's How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live for his Seeger Sessions project in 2006. It's included here in Reed's surprisingly jaunty delivery among many other delights of American empathetic storytelling and folk ballads. 

Judy Henske and Jerry Yester - Farewell Aldebaran (Omnivore) 
A bizarre and brilliant 1969 album, originally issued on Frank Zappa's Straight label. It's so wild as to be almost incoherent (it certainly is disorientating), although Henske's vocals and lyrics somehow tie it all together. A compelling curio more than worthy of rediscovery. 

Bert Jansch - Avocet (Earth Recordings)
Bert Jansch's twelfth album from 1979 - an outstanding trio set with Danny Thompson and Martin Jenkins on violin, the exquisite mandocello and flute. The unpredictable twists and turns of the lengthy title track are especially memorable. A brilliant combination of tradition and experimentation. 

Califone - Roomsound (Dead Oceans)
15th anniversary reissue of Califone's inspired 2001 debut, which began life as another Red Red Meat album before morphing in to a different project. Califone have always been a band interested in sound and texture and this is all evident here. There's also a bonus LP of previously unreleased material that is worth exploring. One of the most underrated bands of this time. 

Harry Beckett - Still Happy (My Only Desire) 
Trumpeter Harry Beckett moved to the UK from Barbados in the 1950s and became a major lynchpin of the great era of British jazz in the 60s and 70s. Still Happy is right in my personal space as far as improvised music is concerned - driving rock grooves create intensity but leave plenty of space for contemplation. It's a previously unreleased set, drawn from a 1974 radio session, but it works entirely well as an album.  

John Surman - Westering Home (A Wing & A Prayer) 
John Surman - Morning Glory (A Wing & A Prayer) 
The first ever authorised reissues of these two key 70s John Surman albums. Like the Harry Beckett radio set Still Happy, here was have some prime examples of one of the most inventive and distinctive periods of UK jazz. Westering Home in part foreshadows the explorations of folk and chamber jazz that Surman would investigate more thoroughly when working with Manfred Eicher and ECM, although Morning Glory (which followed it) returned him to more robust musical territory.  Both capture his wistful, melancholic melodic sensibility. 

Washington Phillips - Washington Phillips and His Manzarene Dream (Dust To Digital) 
This music is wonderful - old gospel songs from 78rpm discs, but delivered in an entirely unique and otherworldly manner. Phillips' voice is gentle and lilting, and the songs are played on a handmade instrument. A dream of heaven. 

Jack Rose - Jack Rose (Three Lobed)
Jack Rose - I Do Play Rock and Roll (Three Lobed)
Jack Rose - Dr Ragtime and His Pals (Three Lobed)
Jack Rose - The Black Dirt Sessions (Three Lobed)
Jack Rose - Opium Musik (Vhf)
Jack Rose - Red Horse, White Mule (Vhf)  
Part of a laudable and necessary collaborative project between Three Lobed and other labels to bring the full catalogue of the late, great guitarist Jack Rose back in to print. Given that Rose's music seems to be the glue binding together an exciting scene of improvising American folk musicians, it's great that his influence and legacy is finally being recognised more widely. 

Johnnie Frierson - Have You Been Good To Yourself (Light In The Attic) 
Another piece of brilliant unearthing from Light In The Attic, there's something resonant and affecting about these original acoustic gospel songs. At the time of recording, Frierson was apparently struggling after his time in the military and the death of his son. These recordings were originally released under the name Khafele Ojore Ajanaku whilst Frierson also hosted a gospel radio show and worked as a mechanic and teacher. Apparently, a second album called Real Education was also found at the same time. It's not yet clear whether Light In The Attic also have plans to release this. 

Gillian Welch - Boots No. 1: The Official Revival Bootleg (Acony)
A reminder that Welch and Rawlings had their approach honed pretty much from the beginning. This excellent collection combines alternate takes of songs from the Revival album with eight previously unreleased songs. 

John Cale - Music For A New Society (Domino/Double Six)
At last, this superb album, arguably Cale's finest solo work, has been made widely available once more. It's a stunning work - one that somehow feels simultaneously wide open and enclosed. It's a great shame that the accompanying work reworking its material, M:FANS, was so horrendously overworked and sonically oppressive. 

Van Morrison - It's Too Late To Stop Now (Sony) 
One of the greatest live albums of all time gets righteously expanded to a 4 volume set and is of course absolutely essential. The way Morrison and his band provoke and encourage each other to ever greater intensity is so thrilling. Morrison's songs remain great healers, although in this context they also become more fiery and urgent too. 

David Bowie - Who Can I Be Now? (Jones/Tintoretto Entertainment) 
A big follow-up to Five Years, the core of this box set is comprised of remastered versions of my favourite Bowie albums (Young Americans and Station to Station - also Diamond Dogs). This might be considered a transitional or experimental period, but the searching resulted in some of his best work, reflective and innovative at the same time. The box also gathers together plenty of alternate takes and unreleased material to satiate Bowie completists. 


Julius Eastman - Femenine (Frozen Reeds) 
Much more than just a simple reissue - this is a fantastic presentation of a recording once thought lost forever. Julius Eastman, part of the same open-minded, cross-genre music and culture scene in which Arthur Russell also moved, created some crucial minimalist compositions (often giving them then provocative titles such as 'Gay Guerilla' in keeping with his courageous celebration of his identity as a black gay man) but later languished in obscurity (and, sadly it also seems, depression and difficult economic circumstances). Admirers of Russell's Instrumentals discs (and, indeed, Eastman served as conductor for Russell's Tower of Meaning) will also find plenty to admire here, a defiantly stoical 70 minute piece that encourages listeners to be attentive for small details and nuances. A set of sleigh bells plays rigorously and continuously for the entire piece, apparently performed by a contraption of Eastman's own devising - Feminine combines a brilliantly sustained mood with subtle transitions and experiments.